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Gaza Strip incident overshadows Israeli visit

Shalom told Calmy-Rey that Israel deeply regretted the gunfire incident Keystone

The Swiss foreign minister has held talks with her Israeli counterpart in Bern, in a meeting dominated by a shooting incident involving a Swiss diplomat.

This content was published on August 12, 2003 - 07:45

Micheline Calmy-Rey said she was "dissatisfied" with Israel’s explanation as to why army fire hit the diplomat’s car in the Gaza Strip in May.

The car carrying Jean-Jacques Joris, the Swiss representative to the Palestinian Authority, was fired on as it approached a checkpoint. Joris survived the attack unharmed.

Calmy-Rey described the shooting as "serious". She told reporters that the Swiss government had sent two ballistic experts to Israel to investigate the matter because it was not satisfied with Israel’s version of events.

An Israeli report - sent after Switzerland demanded an explanation - concluded that the soldiers did not shoot to kill and that the bullets were aimed at the ground but had ricocheted into the car's windscreen.

But the Swiss experts’ findings suggested the car had come under direct fire.

Silvan Shalom said Israel deeply regretted the incident and stressed that it was willing to work with Switzerland to resolve the matter.

“Israel never shoots directly at any car, whether Palestinian or not,” Shalom said. “The soldiers shot to the ground only because they thought their lives were in danger.

“We know this is not something that helps relations, but something like that [can] happen in these territories.”

Investigation

The two ministers agreed that Shalom would take the Swiss experts’ report back to Israel for examination by the military attorney general.

“He can then decide whether it is necessary for the military police to carry out an investigation,” Calmy-Rey said.

Shalom added that he had invited Swiss experts to return to Israel for further investigations into the matter.

Despite the incident, both ministers described relations between the two countries as good.

Shalom said Israel would welcome Switzerland’s participation in the Middle East peace process.

"Our main concern is the respect for human rights and that this should remain part of the [peace negotiations]," Calmy-Rey stressed.

Road Map

The two ministers also discussed the so-called "Road Map" - the latest peace plan between Israel and the Palestinians.

Calmy-Rey told her Israeli counterpart that it was imperative that human rights and international law be respected as part of the Road Map.

She added that the best way forward for the two sides was to implement peace measures simultaneously.

"Switzerland is convinced that a lasting solution has to include the irrevocable right for Israel to exist and to remain secure... There also has to be a right for the Palestinians to self-government and to a viable state."

For his part, Shalom emphasised Israel's commitment to the Road map and its willingness to work together with the new Palestinian leadership.

"Israel has already begun fulfilling its commitments... withdrawing from key areas in the West Bank and Gaza, dismantling unauthorised outposts, relaxing travel restrictions and granting work permits [and prisoner releases]."

Shalom also referred to the latest Hizbollah attack on Sunday in which an Israeli teenager was killed by anti-aircraft fire from across the border in Lebanon.

He blamed Iran and Syria for supporting the movement, and criticised "some European countries" for arguing that Hizbollah's actions "somehow enjoy legitimacy".

Officials at the Israeli embassy in Bern also confirmed that Shalom asked Switzerland to lift its freeze on arms exports to Israel - imposed in April 2002 following the reoccupation of Palestinian towns by Israeli forces.

The Swiss foreign ministry said it was the first time the issue of military cooperation had been discussed at such a high level.

swissinfo, Joanne Shields

In brief

The car of the Swiss representative to the Palestinian Authority, Jean-Jacques Joris, came under fire from Israeli soldiers near a checkpoint in the Gaza Strip in May.

The Swiss government demanded an explanation from the Israeli government and was subsequently sent a report on the incident, which claimed the bullets ricocheted off the ground.

But a report by Swiss experts suggested the car had come under direct attack.

The Swiss findings will be sent to the Israeli military attorney general in charge of the investigation.

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