TEL AVIV (May. 19)
Representatives of the international observer force in Hebron have complained that the Israeli army had placed them under virtual house arrest during a nearly two-day curfew which was imposed on the West Bank town this week.
The curfew, which lasted from Tuesday until Wednesday night, had been imposed on Hebron after members of the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement launched an attack that left two Israelis dead and a third seriously wounded.
The attack took place Tuesday morning near the settlement of Beit Haggai, on the road linking Beersheba and Kiryat Arba, a Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Hebron.
On Thursday, a delegation of the observer force, known officially as the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, complained to Israeli army officials that they had been unable to leave their quarters during the curfew.
An official with the Israel Defense Force reportedly told them that the army was “very reluctant” to let the observers move about in Hebron during the curfew.
“We got nothing from that meeting,” said Bjarno Sorenson, a spokesman for the observers. “They closed the entire city because of the killing of two Israelis, but that was outside Hebron. Why should that incident prevent us from moving around?”
The army said they had notified the observers in advance that the curfew was to be put into effect “as is required from us.”
The observers confirmed that they had indeed received the notice, but protested the scope of the curfew.
In Copenhagen, Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen said that Denmark, a participant in the force, was considering lodging an official protest as well.
The unarmed 150-member observer force, recruited from Norway and Italy, as well as Denmark, arrived in Hebron on May 8 following an agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization allowing for the force’s deployment there.
The PLO had demanded the presence of an international monitoring team to protect Palestinians living in Hebron after the Feb. 25 killings of at least 29 Palestinians at a local mosque by an Israeli settler.
While the Israeli army confirmed that it had prevented the observers from moving about during the curfew, it said it was the army’s right to restrict the observers’ movements under the terms of the agreement with the PLO.