Turkey calls on Israel to renew Hebron observers’ mandate

Ankara, which is part of TIPH mission in the West Bank city, says it rejects Israeli accusations of bias by monitoring force

Members of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) talk to local Palestinians as they walk in the West Bank city on January 29, 2019. (Hazem Bader/AFP)
Members of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) talk to local Palestinians as they walk in the West Bank city on January 29, 2019. (Hazem Bader/AFP)

Turkey has “strongly” condemned Israel’s decision not to renew the mandate of an international monitoring group in the divided West Bank city of Hebron.

“We strongly condemn Israel’s unilateral termination of the mandate of the ‘Temporary International Presence in Hebron’ (TIPH) … and expect this political decision to be reversed,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement late on Friday.

The establishment of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron was based on the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, which called for an international observer force in the West Bank city.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he would not extend its mandate, accusing it of bias following a number of incidents over the past year between its members and Jewish settlers in Hebron.

Ankara, however, dismissed the Israeli accusation.

A view of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron’s (TIPH) headquarters in the West Bank city on January 29, 2019. (Hazem Bader/AFP)

“We decisively reject the allegation that the TIPH has been working against Israel, which is presented by Israel as a justification for its decision.”

Turkey has observers in the Norway-led team tasked with promoting security for Palestinians in Hebron, which is holy to both Muslims and Jews and has been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Earlier Friday, the foreign ministers of Turkey and the other countries that contribute to TIPH condemned the Israeli move and said it violated the Oslo Accords.

Responding to the statement, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he hoped an agreement could be reached to uphold TIPH’s “long-standing and valuable contribution to conflict prevention and the protection of Palestinians in Hebron.”

On Thursday, senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat called for the UN to prevent TIPH’s removal, saying the observer group’s member states must decide “whether Israel is above international law” and whether they would allow it “to do as it wishes in the international arena and flout existing and signed agreements.”

He asked earlier in the week for the UN to deploy a permanent international force in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in light of the Israeli decision not to renew TIPH’s mandate.

PLO secretary general Saeb Erekat addresses the media following a meeting with diplomats in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 30, 2019. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

TIPH is an international civilian observer group that, according to its mandate, was tasked with “monitoring and reporting efforts to maintain normal life in the city of Hebron, thus creating a sense of security among the Palestinians in Hebron.”

It also reported alleged human rights abuses and violations of accords in the city between Israel and Palestinians. TIPH had roughly a dozen staff operating locally and an additional 64 working abroad.

The group had been operating since 1994, and had been ensuring compliance with the Hebron Agreement of 1997 dividing control of the city between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Because the group by definition is considered to be temporary, the Hebron Agreement required Israel to renew the mandate of the observers every six months. While TIPH has long been loathed by local settlers, the group has remained due to Israel’s willingness to maintain favorable relations with the participatory countries.

A screenshot from video of a Swiss member of the TIPH civilian monitoring group slapping a Jewish boy during a tour of the West Bank city of Hebron on June 11, 2018. (Screen capture: Hadashot TV news)

But over the past year, pressure by settler leaders and right-wing lawmakers to end the observers’ mandate increased significantly.

Last July, Hadashot TV news aired security camera footage that showed a uniformed member of TIPH slashing the tires of an Israeli settler in Hebron.

Earlier that month, a separate video emerged of a TIPH staffer slapping a young Jewish boy across the face, sending his skullcap flying.

The observer group expelled both of the members following internal probes into the filmed incidents.

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