Thursday, 10 March 2011

Israeli settlers threaten Western diplomats

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP) – Western diplomats working with the Palestinians told AFP on Thursday they have received threatening letters warning they are "at risk" because of their nations' criticism of settlements.

Diplomatic sources at several foreign missions in east Jerusalem and Ramallah confirmed receiving the letters, which were distributed by men who appeared to be settlers at a checkpoint by the West Bank city of Ramallah.

"I was given the famous leaflet by the settlers on Thursday last week," said one European diplomat, who is based in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem but regularly travels to Ramallah.

"The settlers were inside the checkpoint ... They were kind of sharing the checkpoint with the soldiers and that is the part of the story that I don't like at all," added the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The unsigned letter, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, warns diplomats to "Go home!"

"You are guests in our country! You are standing on the Holy Land of the Jewish nation. Do not interfere with the building of our country," the letter says.

"The meddling by the American government and by the European Union is putting your stay at risk ... We never will make peace with Palestinian terrorists!" the letter warns.

The one-page letter printed in capital letters is accompanied by a second sheet of paper printed with the words "President Barack Hussein Obama -- with friends like you who needs enemies!!!"

An official at the US consulate in east Jerusalem, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the mission's employees had received the letter but no specific additional security measures were being prepared.

"We would defer to the proper authorities to deal with it," he said.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor denounced the letters as "appalling."

""But no embassy has yet approached us on this officially and no embassy has lodged a complaint. As soon as they approach us officially, we will of course refer this to the appropriate authorities and they will take care of it with all due severity," he said.

The European diplomat said his mission had decided to tighten security measures and was "planning to talk to the Israeli authorities about how they (the settlers) came to be in that checkpoint."

"I used to go freely, twice, three times a week for dinner in Ramallah for example, but now I avoid going through that checkpoint in the evening."

Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem ranks among the most contentious issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Last year, direct peace talks ground to a halt shortly after they started when a 10-month partial Israeli settlement freeze expired and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to renew it.

The Palestinians have said they will not hold peace talks while Israel builds on land they want for their future state.

The international community considers Israeli settlements built in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as illegal, and 14 of the 15 members of the UN Security Council last month backed a resolution condemning the Jewish state for continuing settlement activity.

The United States vetoed the resolution, saying it did not think the United Nations was the appropriate forum to address the issue, but reiterating its opposition to Israeli settlement building.

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