JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel on Sunday rejected EU criticism of its seizure of humanitarian aid intended for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and said European diplomats delivering the items had broken the law.
Israeli soldiers manhandled the diplomats on Friday and seized tents and emergency aid they had been trying to give to Palestinians whose ramshackle homes in Khirbet al-Makhul in the Jordan Valley had been demolished by Israel days before.
An Israeli court had said the dwellings, along with stables and a kindergarten, were built without permits. Local residents said Khirbet al-Makhul was home to about 120 people.
EU officials said they deplored the seizure and demanded an explanation. “The EU underlines the importance of unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance ... in the occupied Palestinian territory,” a statement said.
However Israel’s Foreign Ministry said on Sunday it rejected the “one-sided” EU statement. “This announcement ignores the European diplomats’ blunt violation of the law, their disregard of a ruling of the Israeli court and their unnecessary provocation under the alleged pretext of humanitarian aid,” it said.
A ministry spokeswoman said the tents that were being delivered by the diplomats could constitute an attempt to rebuild the village in Khirbet al-Makhul.
A Reuters reporter saw soldiers throw sound grenades at a group of diplomats, aid workers and local residents and yank a French diplomat out of the truck before driving it away during the aid seizure incident.
Reuters video footage showed the French woman hitting an Israeli border policeman on his chin.
“The idea that a foreign diplomat can strike an Israeli border police officer in the face is totally unacceptable and explanations both from the diplomats and their governments would be warranted,” Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said on Sunday.
Palestinians seek to establish a state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in a 1967 Middle East war. Israel and the Palestinians renewed peace talks in July after a three-year break.
Relations between Israel and the European Union have been strained over the EU decision, announced in July, to bar financial assistance to Israeli organisations operating in the occupied territories from next year.
Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Pravin Char