Calm restored after hundreds storm mission in cartoon protest.
By MARGOT DUDKEVITCH
For the first time since its establishment, members of The Temporary International Presence in Hebron were forced to leave their headquarters because of the violent Palestinian protests over the Danish cartoons seen as insulting Islam. On Wednesday morning, dozenss of Palestinian protesters threw stones, and some forced their way into the mission headquarters, damaging property.
Gunhild Forselv, a TIPH spokeswoman, told The Jerusalem Post that a decision was made to leave the headquarters temporarily, following the violent protests that occurred in the morning. "Because of the stone throwers and the fact that 16 and 17-year-old teenagers broke into the headquarters and damaged property, we took the decision to return to Tel Aviv until the situation quiets down," she said. "It is the first time members have been forced to leave the premises," she said.
Some protesters attempted to set fire to the property, and others damaged TIPH cars.
The mission's main task is to monitor and report misconduct by either side in the conflict but observers are not permitted to directly intervene in incidents.
Its mandate is the result of negotiations conducted between Israel and the PLO between 1994 and 1997.
In a somewhat surrealistic situation, armed Palestinian policemen grouped beside IDF soldiers to protect the TIPH members against the angry stone throwers. "Almost all the windows in the building have been smashed. A group of teenagers succeeded in climbing over the gate and entered the building and began to damage property before they were thrown out by Palestinian security forces," Forselv said. While the violence lasted only 15 minutes, a group of protesters remained in the area throughout the day, she said. "It is a weird situation, on one side there are Palestinian Police who Israel permitted to carry arms, and there are IDF soldiers, all present to protect us," she said.
The army said the soldiers' presence was to protect the TIPH members who required assistance.
Forselv said that already last week, 11 Danish members left the Hebron headquarters at the request of their embassy and are currently residing in Tel Aviv until the situation calms down.
Forselv said members of Hamas and other terror organizations in the city gave mission members assurances that they would protect them and attempt to restore calm. In the morning, a local Hamas leader arrived at the site to calm the tension she said. Throughout the day, TIPH team members donned flak jackets and helmets because of the unrest she said.
According to Forselv, the mission received the assurances of the Palestinian Police that they would guard the headquarters located in the al-Zaghal Building, in the city's Ras al-Joura neighborhood, until the members return. The TIPH team of civilian observers besides, the 11 Danish members, are from Norway, Italy, Sweden, Turkey and Switzerland.
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