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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 20:04 GMT
Foreigners wary of Palestinian anger
By Martin Patience
BBC News website, Jerusalem

Palestinians scale the burning British Council in Gaza City
The deteriorating security situation has led to an exodus of foreigners
Black smoke poured from the burning British Council building in Gaza City, an HSBC branch was vandalised in Ramallah, and eleven foreigners were seized across the Palestinian territories.

The violence against Westerners in the wake of the British and American decision to withdraw their monitors from the Jericho prison is the latest in a series of attacks on foreign workers and Western targets.

Just a year ago, violence towards foreigners was almost unheard of in the Palestinian territories, but now the attacks are becoming commonplace.

The trend started in Gaza last summer where there was a spate of kidnappings of foreigners.

In Palestinian society, there is an increasingly frustration about the failure to attain statehood and rampant unemployment

A deteriorating security situation led to an exodus of foreign workers from the volatile Strip.

The United Nations pulled all non-essential staff from Gaza citing security concerns.

Worrying dynamic

In recent months, however, the attacks have developed a worrying dynamic for foreign workers in the region.

Former British hostage Kate Burton
British aid worker Kate Burton was a high profile hostage

Generally, the Gaza kidnappings were not motivated by hatred of the West.

Instead, Palestinian militants or family clans were using the foreigners as bargaining chips in disputes with the Palestinian Authority.

But since Palestinian protests over cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad, foreigners have increasingly been targeted because of their nationalities.

International monitors in the West Bank city of Hebron were forced to leave their office after hundreds of protesters hurled stones and bottles and smashed windows at the building housing their mission.

That the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (Tiph) was there to try to improve the lives of Palestinians living in the city seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Tense

While the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has condemned such attacks and offered protection to foreign workers, the trend shows little sign of abating.

I'm a little bit concerned if I need to go to Jenin or Nablus on my own
Erik Hannikainen

With only a handful of Westerners living in Gaza now, the majority of foreigners in the Palestinian territories live and work in the West Bank.

In recent months, as the situation has become tenser, many foreign workers have exercised a degree of caution before travelling.

"I'm a little bit concerned if I need to go to Jenin or Nablus on my own," says Erik Hannikainen, a UN consultant working out of the organisation's Ramallah office.

The 26-year-old from Finland says, however, that the current level of violence will not force him to leave the country and that in general he feels safe.

Frustration

The attacks on foreigners are borne from a growing sense of frustration in Palestinian life, says Bassam Nasser, a political analyst in Gaza City.

Muslim youth members of the Islamic movement Hamas burn the French flag
The row over cartoons satirising Muhammad only heightened tensions

While he says the majority of Palestinians condemn the attacks on the British Council and the kidnapping of foreigners "the level of hatred is increasing towards Westerners particularly because of the war in Iraq and the cartoons."

In Palestinian society, there is an increasing frustration about the failure to attain statehood and rampant unemployment.

There is also the perception that the West favours Israel over the Palestinians, says Mr Nasser, which has led to growing disillusionment.

"They wanted us to vote in a democratic manner but when we voted they didn't like our choice," he says, in reference to threats to cut funding to a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

While there is still tension in the West Bank and Gaza over the UK's and US's actions, most observers believe it will dissipate in the coming days.

But most agree foreigners will have to continue being careful in the Palestinian territories.


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