Switzerland and the four other states belonging to the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) civilian observer mission say they regret the unilateral decision by the Israeli government not to renew its mandate.
In a joint statement on Fridayexternal link, Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis and his counterparts from Sweden, Norway, Italy and Turkey said they were “concerned that the Israeli government’s decision undermines one of the few established mechanisms for conflict resolution between Israelis and Palestinians”.
On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would not renew the mandate of the TIPHexternal link from January 31, accusing it of unspecified anti-Israeli activity.
The TIPH, which has been present in the flashpoint West Bank city for 22 years, is made up of unarmed observers from five countries: Norway, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland and Turkey. It has 64 international staff in the city, according to its website. Its mandate is to monitor “breaches of the agreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel on Hebron, as well as violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law”.
The signatories of Friday’s statement said the Israeli decision “constitutes a departure from the Oslo II Accord of 1995”.
“In this regard, we stress Israel’s obligations under international law to protect the people in Hebron and in other parts of the occupied Palestinian territory, and its duty to ensure accountability for violations thereof,” they wrote.
“We therefore strongly object to any claim that the TIPH has acted against Israel. Such claims are unacceptable and ungrounded."
They urged the parties to make progress towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict and to resolve all outstanding issues.
The UN has also said it regrets Israel’s decision.
“While the TIPH is not a United Nations body, its role in contributing positively to defusing tensions in such a sensitive area has been widely recognized,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
Settler leaders, meanwhile, have welcomed news of the force's upcoming departure. They have accused the TIPH of harassing settlers and agitating against them.
Yishai Fleisher, a spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community, said the TIPH observers "created an atmosphere of conflict, not a congenial atmosphere of peace."
Palestinians have reacted angrily, saying Israel is trying to rid Hebron of witnesses to its actions in the occupied West Bank. They are calling for a UN presence there.
Hebron, a city of some 200,000 people, is home to about 1,000 Israeli settlers who are heavily guarded by an Israeli military presence.
swissinfo and agencies/jc