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Israeli authorities refuse Dutch FM access to Hebron Old City

Dec. 8, 2013 1:30 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 8, 2013 10:17 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans' visit to Hebron on Sunday was marred by the refusal of Israeli authorities to allow him to visit the Old City without an Israeli military escort, the Palestinian ambassador to the Netherlands told Ma'an.

Ambassador Nabil Abuznaid told Ma'an in an interview on Sunday that the Dutch minister had planned to visit sections of Hebron's Old City but Israeli authorities imposed conditions on his visit.

When the foreign minister refused these conditions, which the ambassador described as "unprecedented" for visiting dignitaries, he was forced to cancel his visit.

"The occupation (authorities) tried to make some conditions, but he did not accept them," Abuznaid told Ma'an on Sunday.

"We appreciate that he fought for his principles," by refusing to accept the Israeli authorities' condition, he added.

Abuznaid highlighted that by refusing to visit the Old City of Hebron under Israeli escort the Dutch minister made it clear that "he did not want to set a precedent" of only entering escorted by the Israeli military.

"We respect the Dutch and their decisions," which show "their support for human rights and Palestinian rights," he added.

"We are mad at the occupation," for imposing these conditions, Abuznaid stressed, "as we the hosts cannot even receive a special guest in our homes."

Expressing his frustration with the Israeli-imposed restrictions, the ambassador lamented, "We cannot show him our own city and our suffering."

The Dutch foreign minister was able to visit sites outside of the Old City in Hebron, including a meeting with the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, a civilian observer mission based in the city.

But the Israeli authorities' refusal to allow the Dutch leader to visit the Old City with a Palestinian escort meant he was unable to see the areas that witness some of the highest incidences of Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians.

Hebron is a frequent site of clashes due to the presence of 500 Israeli settlers in the heart of the Palestinian Old City, many of whom have illegally occupied Palestinian houses and forcibly removed the original inhabitants. They are protected by thousands of Israeli forces.

A 1997 agreement split Hebron into areas of Palestinian and Israeli control.

The Israeli military-controlled H2 zone includes the ancient Old City, home of the revered Ibrahimi Mosque -- also split into a synagogue referred to as the Tomb of the Patriarchs -- and the once thriving Shuhada street, now just shuttered shop fronts and closed homes.

More than 500,000 Israeli settlers live in settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in contravention of international law.

The internationally recognized Palestinian territories of which the West Bank and East Jerusalem form a part have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.

Article has been edited to reflect the fact that the Foreign Minister was unable to visit, not the Prime Minister as was initially reported.
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