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Swiss show support for Palestinians

An Israeli soldier in Ramallah in front of a banner of Arafat


Swiss peace activists have joined a group of international pacifists in the West Bank to express their solidarity with the Palestinians.

Despite a United Nation's resolution calling on Israel to withdraw from Palestinian cities, the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has effectively declared war on what he called Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's "terrorist infrastructure".

Arafat is still confined to his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, which are under siege by the Israeli army.

Yet despite the fighting, foreign pacifists have marched into the building, vowing to act as a "human shield" around Arafat.

"The mission was to go around towns such as Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and Gaza to pay solidarity visits and act directly against the [Israeli] occupation," said Sigfried Ericsson, one of the three Swiss members of the International Solidarity Movement in Bethlehem.

"But now we are acting more as "human shields" and we are trying to negotiate with Israeli soldiers to let Palestinian pass to get through to the ambulances," he told swissinfo.

Stranded in Daishe

Two of the Swiss peace activists are currently stranded in the Daishe refugee camp on the outskirts of Bethlehem, which provides accommodation for more than 12,000 Palestinians, Ericsson said.

However, he denied earlier reports that the peace activists were being held by force in the camp.

"They have decided to stay in the camp because getting out is dangerous at the moment. On the western side, Israeli forces constantly moving in and out during the night to find out whether there are any gunmen," he said.

No fear

The 20-year-old aid worker has been with the International Solidarity Movement in the West Bank since last July and says he has never feared for his safety.

"I can't believe I am here and I can't believe how the people are reacting - they're really calm," he said. "Things often seem normal - of course, there are gunmen in the streets but I am not afraid."

Ericsson said he admired how Palestinians tried to keep their lives as normal as possible, despite the current situation.

"The Palestinians are afraid but they know they can't do anything. They don't complain when we come to see them," he said.

"They invited us for a volleyball game in a little street of the refugee camp. We played volleyball in the middle of the night only with one little light and it worked."

by Samantha Tonkin and Billi Bierling

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