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Uneasy calm prevails in West Bank

A member of the TIPH is escorted from his offices by a Palestinian policeman Keystone

After the evacuation of European observers from Hebron in the West Bank, the top Swiss diplomat in the region tells swissinfo the situation is mostly calm.

This content was published on February 9, 2006 - 14:37

Jean-Jacques Joris, head of the Swiss Representative Office in Ramallah, said he fully supported the decision of the head of the observer mission to withdraw staff, including five Swiss nationals.

For its part, the Swiss foreign ministry said it hoped the Temporary International Presence in the City of Hebron (TIPH) could resume its activities in the occupied territories as soon as possible.

The attack on the TIPH building on Wednesday was the latest and most violent incident to date in the wave of Palestinian protests about the publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed in the European press.

The outcry about the cartoons, echoed across the Muslim world, began less than a week after Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections, adding to tensions in the region.

Despite several attacks on European organisations in Gaza and the West Bank, Joris said he didn't feel that his office's security situation was of particular concern this week.

swissinfo: The TIPH mission included five Swiss nationals. What's your response to the provisional transfer of the staff to Tel Aviv?

Jean-Jacques Joris: The head of mission in Hebron, Arnstein Øverkil, decided on the immediate evacuation of the mission based on his security assessment and that is the only relevant assessment that we all accept.

He is responsible and if he assesses the situation to be dangerous for the mission and its members, then we fully support his decision.

swissinfo: How would you now describe the general security situation for European representatives working in Palestine?

J-J.J.: With the exception of what happened on Wednesday morning in Hebron, the situation in the West Bank is relatively calm and under control. There have been a number of demonstrations in the major West Bank cities over the past days and most of them were orderly and quiet.

In Gaza, where the Office of the European Commission was occupied by demonstrators last week, the situation is a bit different. Gaza in general has a security situation which has been much more volatile over the past year so it is not surprising that the demonstrations have been more frequent with more people participating.

swissinfo: Are you optimistic that a solution will be found to move forward politically from the election results?

J-J.J.: Nobody has an interest in a collapse of the Palestinian Authority – not the Palestinians, not the EU, the US and certainly not Israel. So I'm confident that with sufficient goodwill and good actions taken by the Palestinian government, a solution can be found. I hope so.

swissinfo: How would you describe Swiss relations with the Palestinian Authority (PA)?

J-J.J.: Relations are good. At this precise time, the Swiss position is very clear. We will continue to work with the PA and we expect the PA to continue to work according to the tenets of international law as it has in the past. The future government's line will be assessed on the actions it takes.

 

In brief

The Temporary International Presence in the City of Hebron (TIPH) observer mission was deployed in 1994 after a Jewish settler massacred 29 Palestinians at the city's hotly contested holy site.

About 60 foreign observers, including five Swiss, fled Hebron on Wednesday after some 300 Palestinian protestors overpowered the police and stormed the TIPH building. The crowd was venting its anger over the Mohammed cartoons affair.

TIPH's mandate is to observe and report on tensions between Palestinians and a small group of Jewish settlers in the city.

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