Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Students attack British diplomat

Palestinians students block the British consul general Sir Vincent Fean from giving a speech (AP)
Palestinians students block the British consul general Sir Vincent Fean from giving a speech (AP)

Dozens of Palestinian protesters have tried to attack a senior British diplomat in a fury over a British policy and a century-old promise to Jews.

The outburst forced the British consul general, Sir Vincent Fean, to cancel a speech at a Palestinian university.

He was not hurt, although one demonstrator was seen kicking him in the shins.

Student activists said they were protesting over decades of British policy toward Palestinians.

They said their chief grievance was Britain's support for a Jewish homeland in what was then British-ruled Palestine in a letter known as the "Balfour Declaration," issued in 1917. The letter also said "nothing shall be done" that would prejudice the civil rights of non-Jews. Israel gained independence in 1948.

Britain is an ally of Israel but has been highly critical of its policies toward the Palestinians, especially settlement construction in the West Bank.

In recent days tensions have risen in the West Bank, with demonstrations, some of them violent, in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons. Some have predicted that the protests could escalate into a full-scale uprising.

"We asked the university to cancel his visit because Britain is the cause of the Palestinian tragedy," said Taha Afghani, student leader of the Palestinian Fatah group, one of several political factions that organised the protest. Fatah is headed by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

Sir Vincent was returning to his vehicle after meeting Birzeit University officials when the incident erupted. The administration decided to cancel the lecture after dozens of students, some waving Palestinian flags and signs, gathered outside the office.

The Foreign Office said that Sir Vincent had hoped "to engage in an open dialogue" about Britain's policies in the Middle East. "Sadly, such a dialogue was not possible on this occasion."

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