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French foreign minister mobbed by protesters in Gaza

A crowd of angry Palestinian protesters have mobbed the convoy carrying French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie as she arrived in Gaza. They were angry about "pro-Israeli" comments she'd allegedly made.

A crowd holds a poster with a picture of the minister crossed out in front of her car

A crowd in Gaza hammered on the French foreign minister's car

A crowd of Palestinian protesters mobbed the car carrying French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie as she arrived in Gaza on Friday.

Carrying signs reading "Get out of Gaza" the demonstrators stopped her car shortly after it passed through a Hamas checkpoint in the northern town of Beit Hanun, surrounding the vehicle and hammering on the sides with their fists.

Witnesses said some protesters jumped in front of the vehicles and lay down in the road. Later demonstrators threw shoes at the windscreen as she tried to leave a hospital she'd just visited.

The protesters were thought to be relatives of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. They were angry about over remarks the minister was alleged to have made on Thursday in support of an Israeli soldier being held captive in Gaza, without mentioning the plight of the Palestinians.

Hamas, the fundamentalist movement which has administered Gaza since 2007, said in a media statement that Alliot-Marie's remarks were "biased toward Israel." However, it appears the minister had been misquoted.

False attribution

The comments center on Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was seized by the Palestians in a cross-border raid in 2006. Hamas is demanding that Israel free about 1,000 prisoners in exchange for the return of Shalit.

On Thursday, Alliot-Marie met Shalit's parents in Jerusalem. At the meeting, Gilad's father Noam asked the French minister to press the European Union to "condemn as a war crime" the detention of his son.

However, shortly afterwards, Arabic-language media, mistakenly quoted Alliot-Marie as saying the European Union "must condemn the war crime that Hamas is committing by keeping Gilad Shalit in captivity."

Police managed to disperse the demonstrators, allowing the convoy to proceed towards Gaza City, accompanied by United Nations vehicles.

In Gaza, Alliot-Marie also held talks with UN officials and visited the French Cultural center in Gaza City.

Hamas is subject to a Western diplomatic boycott due to its refusal to accept demands to lay down its weapons, honor past Israeli-Palestinian agreements and acknowledge Israel's right to exist.

Author: Joanna Impey (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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