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Israel rejects Swiss criticism

Over 100 people have died in weekend violence in the West Bank

(Keystone)

Israel's ambassador to Bern, Ygal Antebi, has rejected Switzerland's condemnation of Israeli military action in the Occupied Territories.

In the first public Israeli reaction to Switzerland's stance, Antebi said he did not accept Swiss criticism.

However, in an interview with the "SonntagsBlick" newspaper, Antebi said he had been affected by Switzerland's comments.

"I understand their reaction but I do not accept it," he said.

Antebi's statement came after he was summoned for the second time in two months to the Swiss Foreign Ministry on Tuesday for a meeting with the secretary of state for foreign affairs, Franz von Däniken.

Demand for withdrawal

Von Däniken demanded that Israel pull its troops out of recently occupied Palestinian towns and release Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, from his compound in Ramallah.

Arafat has been confined to his Ramallah headquarters since Israeli tanks moved into the West Bank almost a fortnight ago, in retaliation for what has been dubbed the "Passover massacre". Twenty-six people were killed after a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in a busy restaurant in Netanya.

Antebi said the disagreement between Switzerland and Israel was temporary. "Our relationship will get back to normal over the next few weeks," he said.

"We should not mix Israel's relationship with Switzerland with what is happening in the Middle East," he elaborated.

However Antebi would not be drawn on the details of his meeting with von Däniken.

Arms trade

Earlier in the week, it was mooted that Switzerland was considering halting weapons trade with Israel, but Antebi said he did not think it would happen.

"We will do everything in our power to ensure that Switzerland continues to support us," he said. "I'm convinced that we can do it."

Statistics Office

In February, Swiss officials took Antebi to task over an Israeli attack on the Palestinian statistics office in Ramallah, which Switzerland co-financed.

Antebi said the attack was only on one building and that it had not been destroyed. Rather it had been "damaged", he said, and Israel should not have to pay compensation to Switzerland over the matter.

"Arafat to blame"

In response to more general questions about the violent situation in the West Bank, Antebi put the blame squarely on Arafat.

"Israel has done nothing wrong. The problem lies with Arafat," he said. "Ariel Sharon's predecessor, [the former Israeli prime minister] Ehud Barak, gave the Palestinians generous peace offers, but they chose not to take them."

He said that instead of accepting Barak's olive branch, the Palestinians stepped up their terror attacks. "This was their greatest mistake," he added.

However, there is a ray of hope. Antebi believes the Israelis do want peace.

"Israel cannot afford a drawn-out war," he said. "We would really like to see this conflict end tomorrow."

"There is a solution, I just can't say whether it will come in two weeks, or four months. Sharon has said we do not want to stay in the occupied Palestinian towns. All we want to do is destroy the Palestinian terror networks."

"Arafat had the power to stop the suicide terror attacks but he did nothing."

Over the weekend, fresh Israeli incursions into the West Bank town of Nablus left more than 30 dead, according to Israeli military commanders. Another 30 Palestinians and seven Israeli soldiers were killed in the Jenin refugee camp.

swissinfo with agencies


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