BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Senior European Union officials told Israel to explain why its soldiers seized a truckload of humanitarian aid intended for Palestinians, saying they deplored the confiscation.
Israeli soldiers manhandled European diplomats on Friday and seized tents and emergency aid they had been trying to deliver to Palestinians whose homes were demolished this week.
A Reuters reporter saw soldiers throw sound grenades at a group of diplomats, aid workers and locals in the occupied West Bank, and yank a French diplomat out of the truck before driving it away.
“EU representatives have already contacted the Israeli authorities to demand an explanation and expressed their concern at the incident,” a statement issued by the spokesmen for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said on Saturday.
Relations between Israel and the EU have been strained over the EU’s decision, announced in July, to bar financial assistance to Israeli organizations operating in the occupied territories from next year.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced that move as meddling in Israel’s bilateral relations with the Palestinians. Israel retaliated by blocking the EU from aiding tens of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank.
Locals said Israeli soldiers demolished their houses, stables and a kindergarten at Khirbet Al-Makhul on Monday after Israel’s high court ruled that they did not have proper building permits.
Israel’s army said security forces had tried to stop locals erecting tents in the area on Friday and locals and “foreign activists” had responded by throwing stones.
The military said it was looking into allegations that foreign diplomats had “abused their diplomatic privileges”.
Palestinians have accused the Israeli authorities of progressively taking their historical grazing lands in the West Bank, territory seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war that Palestinians want for a future state.
Israelis and Palestinians resumed direct peace talks last month after a three-year hiatus. Palestinian officials have expressed serious doubts about the prospects of a breakthrough.
Reporting by Martin Santa; Editing by Andrew Heavens