Swedish observers flee after Hebron attack

Swedish observers in the West Bank town of Hebron are being evacuated after their headquarters came under attack from Palestinian youths.

The 12 Swedish observers are part of The International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), together with staff from Norway, Denmark, Turkey, Italy and Switzerland.

Several hundred Palestinian demonstrators gathered outside the TIPH compound at 11 am on Wednesday and started throwing stones at the house, breaking windows and destroying a number of cars. They were prevented from entering the property by the Italian carabinieri guarding the building.

“After a meeting at lunchtime, the IPTH crew decided to evacuate,” said Jon Hedenström, press officer at the Swedish International Development Agency, SIDA, which finances the Swedish contingent.

The group are being moved under Israeli army escort to Tel Aviv.

Hedenström told The Local that none of the staff being evacuated were reported to have been injured, “but naturally they are shaken.”

He said that at 3pm on Wednesday afternoon the latest reports from the Swedish Consulate-General in Jerusalem indicated that the situation was becoming calmer outside the IPTH.

“The immediate crisis situation is improving.”

“The Palestinian police force and the Israeli Defence Force are securing the IPTH headquarters,” he said.

The evacuation is currently being described as a temporary move. Danish observers left the headquarters on Monday, following the escalation of the conntroversy over the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in Danish paper Jyllands Posten.

The exact reason for Wednesday’s demonstration was unclear, but the observers had been confined to their compound for several days, following tension over the Muhammad pictures. They had resumed patrols on Wednesday morning, before their base came under attack.