Palestinians criticise decision to remove observers in Hebron

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said an inquiry found the presence of the observers exacerbated tensions

 Israel has decided not  to extend the mandate of the international observer force in the West Bank city of Hebron. Photograph: EPA/Abed Al Hashlamoun

Israel has decided not to extend the mandate of the international observer force in the West Bank city of Hebron. Photograph: EPA/Abed Al Hashlamoun

 

Palestinians have reacted angrily to Israel’s decision not to extend the mandate of the international observer force in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron, saying the move opens the possibility for a repeat of the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, when Hebron settler Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Muslim worshippers at the holy site.

“The Israeli government’s decision means it has abandoned the implementation of agreements signed under international auspices, and given up its obligations under these agreements,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat called on the United Nations to “guarantee the safety and protection of the people of Palestine” until “the end of Israel’s belligerent occupation”.

The Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) was tasked with monitoring compliance with the 1997 agreement that divided the city of more than 220,000 Palestinians, handing 80 per cent of it to the Palestinian Authority and maintaining 20 per cent under Israeli military control. The settler enclave in the centre of the city is home to some 700 Jewish residents, including some of the most militant West Bank settlers.

TIPH has representatives from Norway, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey, and according to its mandate “monitors the situation in Hebron and records breaches of international humanitarian law”. The force’s mandate, which comes up for renewal every six months, was due to come to an end on January 31st.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he took the decision after an inquiry found that instead of reducing tensions, TIPH’s activity only served to exacerbate them.

“We won’t allow the continued presence of an international force that operates against us,” he wrote on Twitter.

Two incidents

Israeli media recently reported on two incidents which portrayed the international observers as hostile to the Hebron settlers. In the first incident a Swiss observer allegedly slapped a 10-year-old Jewish child, and, in the second incident, an observer was caught on film slashing the tyres on a car owned by a Hebron settler and left the country before he could be questioned by Israeli police.

Israel also accused TIPH of co-operating with left-wing Israeli NGOs, such as anti-occupation Breaking the Silence.

The Hebron settler community thanked Mr Netanyahu.

“Together we proved that it is possible to bring an end to the injustice and folly that has lasted for many years,” Hebron’s Jewish community said in a statement.

Deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely, who spearheaded the efforts to end TIPH’s mandate, welcomed the decision.

“A foreign force has no place in the city of our forefathers, certainly not when it works one-sidedly against the Jewish residents and favours the Palestinians.”

Public security minister Gilad Erdan said TIPH co-operated with extremist organisations and promoted the delegitimisation of Israel.