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Israeli forces manhandle EU diplomats, seize West Bank aid

Israeli soldiers carry French diplomat Marion Castaing after removing her from her truck containing emergency aid, in the West Bank herding
Israeli soldiers carry French diplomat Marion Castaing after removing her from her truck containing emergency aid, in the West Bank herding

By Noah Browning

KHIRBET AL-MAKHUL, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli soldiers manhandled European diplomats on Friday and seized a truck full of tents and emergency aid they had been trying to deliver to Palestinians whose homes were demolished this week.

A Reuters reporter saw soldiers throw sound grenades at a group of diplomats, aid workers and locals in the occupied West Bank, and yank a French diplomat out of the truck before driving it away.

"They dragged me out of the truck and forced me to the ground with no regard for my diplomatic immunity," French diplomat Marion Castaing said.

"This is how international law is being respected here," she said, covered with dust.

Locals said Khirbet Al-Makhul was home to about 120 people. The army demolished their ramshackle houses, stables and a kindergarten on Monday after Israel's high court ruled that they did not have proper building permits.

Despite losing their property, the inhabitants have refused to leave the land, where, they say, their families have lived for generations along with their flocks of sheep.

The Israeli army said on Friday that security forces had tried to prevent tents from being erected in area, in accordance with the high court decision.

"At the site, Palestinians and the foreign activists violently objected, throwing stones and striking law enforcement officers," a military spokeswoman said.

"Reports that foreign diplomats abused their diplomatic privileges are currently being reviewed, and if required, complaints will be filed with the relevant authorities."

The French diplomat jabbed a soldier in the face after picking herself up off the ground. Reuters reporters at the scene said they saw no stone throwing or foreign activists.

"SHOCKING AND OUTRAGEOUS"

Israeli soldiers stopped the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delivering emergency aid on Tuesday and on Wednesday ICRC staff managed to put up some tents but the army forced them to take the shelters down.

Diplomats from France, Britain, Spain, Ireland, Australia and the European Union's political office, turned up on Friday with more supplies. As soon as they arrived, about a dozen Israeli army jeeps converged on them, and soldiers told them not to unload their truck.

"It's shocking and outrageous. We will report these actions to our governments," said one EU diplomat, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

In scuffles between soldiers and locals, several villagers were detained. An elderly Palestinian man fainted and was taken for medical treatment to a nearby ambulance.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement that Makhul was the third Bedouin community to be demolished by the Israelis in the West Bank and adjacent Jerusalem municipality since August.

Palestinians have accused the Israeli authorities of progressively taking their historical grazing lands, either earmarking it for military use or handing it over to the Israelis whose settlements dot the West Bank.

Israelis and Palestinians resumed direct peace talks last month after a three-year hiatus. Palestinian officials have expressed serious doubts about the prospects of a breakthrough.

A spokesman at the British Consulate General in Jerusalem said London was "seriously concerned" by the Makhul demolitions and by the subsequent refusal to let villagers receive aid.

"We have repeatedly made clear to the Israeli authorities our concerns over such demolitions, which we view as causing unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians, as harmful to the peace process, and as contrary to international humanitarian law," he said.

(Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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