Peace meeting in Ramallah broken up by stone throwers

Dozens of Israeli participants rushed from hotel by Palestinian security forces

Palestinian protesters look through broken glass doors of a gate at a hotel where a group of Israelis and Palestinians hold a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, January 9, 2014. (photo credit: AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Palestinian protesters look through broken glass doors of a gate at a hotel where a group of Israelis and Palestinians hold a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, January 9, 2014. (photo credit: AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Palestinians threw rocks Thursday at a West Bank hotel, shattering windows and breaking up a meeting of Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.

The conference was cut short and three dozen Israeli participants were rushed out the back door, put on Palestinian police buses and driven to safety, organizers said.

The gathering was to have marked the start of two days of meetings by a grassroots group bringing ordinary Israelis and Palestinians staging together for mock peace talks, organizers said.

Protesters said they object to attempts at normalizing Israeli-Palestinian relations at a time when Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian lands continues.

About 35 Israelis and 50 Palestinians participated in Thursday’s gathering, the first the group has held in the West Bank, said Palestinian organizer Ibrahim Enbawi.

Israeli and Palestinian flags were set up in the hotel’s conference room.

After word of the gathering got out, about 30 protesters showed up outside the hotel. Protesters tried to enter the hotel, but found the doors locked, and then began throwing stones that shattered several windows and glass doors.

Israeli participant Rami Cohen, a former air force pilot, said he felt uncomfortable after the stone-throwing, but expressed understanding for the protesters.

“There is more anger here than in Israel because the Palestinians suffer more than us,” said Cohen, 56, who works for a high tech company in Tel Aviv. “One day, I hope it will be safe for us here in Ramallah as it is safe for us in Tel Aviv.”

Jamal Jumaa, a leading Palestinian activist, said he joined the protest because he believes such gatherings distort reality, but said he was not among those throwing stones.

“When they (Israelis) come like this to the middle of Ramallah, they have another agenda, which is to clean up the face of the occupation, to show that Palestinians and Israelis are co-existing when in fact they are not,” he said in a telephone interview.

The invitation to the event had said each delegation would include 20 people reflecting the entire political spectrum. It said the objective was to produce a peace agreement in five sessions over two days. It was not clear if the meetings would continue.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has been trying to forge agreement on the outlines of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, but more than five months after the start of the current round of talks, gaps remain wide.

Distrust between ordinary Israelis and Palestinians also has deepened after their last major bout of fighting several years ago. The Israeli military largely restricts movement between the sides, citing security concerns.

In other developments Thursday, the Israeli army said it hit targets in the Gaza Strip after terrorists fired mortars from there into Israel.

Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said two men were wounded when a drone fired at their motorcycle.

The two men were militants, said a Palestinian security official.

Flare-ups along the border have declined since Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers fought an eight-day battle in 2012, but violent incidents occur occasionally.

Meanwhile, in the Jalazoun refugee camp north of Ramallah, residents burned tires and blocked a nearby road in protest at a continuing strike by workers from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

A Palestinian labor union called the strike after UNRWA said it planned to review salaries of its more than 5,000 employees in the West Bank, Reuters reported. UNRWA, which provides heath, education, and sanitation services in 19 camps that are home to some 730,000 refugees, said it was working to bring an end to the dispute but doesn’t have enough cash to pay all of its employees.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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