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Three German security guards who waved Palestinian scarves and got into a row with Israeli representatives at Berlin's tourism trade fair in Berlin were escorted out by police. No charges were filed.
The world's biggest travel and tourism trade fair, the ITB Berlin, was briefly disrupted on Thursday when three Berlin-born security guards hired to protect the event waved Palestinian scarves and shouted "Free Palestine" in front of the Israeli stand.
"There was a verbal altercation," Emanuel Höger, press spokesman of the ITB's venue, Messe Berlin, confirmed in a statement on Friday. "As a result, the employees of the Israel stand called the police, who escorted the disrupters from the trade fair grounds."
"We regret the incident greatly," Höger continued. "The safety of all exhibitors and visitors is the highest priority. The three employees of the security service of one of our external contractors were yesterday banned from the venue and from service."
A Berlin police spokeswoman confirmed to DW that three men, all Berlin-born German citizens of "migrant background," were escorted off the ITB. She also said that no charges had been pressed and that there was no criminal investigation. She said two of the men were aged 19 and one was aged 21, but could not say whether the men were of Palestinian background.
Marc Böttger, head of Teamflex Solutions, the Berlin-based security firm involved, told DW that the three men had been working for a "partner company," and that their responsility at the ITB had been to coordinate traffic outside - a job for which no background checks were deemed necessary.
He added that the company would not be tightening background checks in the wake of the incident, "since we already exhaust all possible security-check measures that a private company must be available for in cooperation with the security authorities."
Read more: ITB tourism trade fair opens in Berlin
Tight-lipped trade fair reps
Security guards and Israeli representatives at the ITB were tight-lipped about the incident on Friday, with most refusing to even say whether they had witnessed it personally.
Witnesses who wished to remain anonymous told DW that the whole incident lasted "less than five minutes," and that though it was seen as a deliberate provocation, the protesters were not armed and the local security firm had handled it efficiently enough. "It sounded a bit dramatic [in the German press reports], but it was not that dramatic," one said.
Representatives of the Israeli Tourist Board at the stand also played down the incident or refused to acknowledge that it had even happened. Another pointed out that the Palestinian stand was located right next to the Israeli stand, and said "everything is calm and quiet here."
None of the representatives at the Palestinian stand said they saw any incident, nor did representatives at the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Lebanese stands, which all adjoin the Israeli stand at the fair.
The police spokeswoman would not say whether more officers would be deployed at the ITB as a result of the incident, though there were some police patrols visible on Friday morning.
Trouble with security
The vast five-day ITB Berlin, which runs till Sunday, is considered the biggest tourism trade fair in the world, with national tourist boards, travel agents, and hotels chains from five continents represented. Some 10,000 exhibitors from 180 countries take part, welcoming over 160,000 private and trade visitors.
Police officers in Berlin have occasionally warned that some employees of private security firms in the German capital have links to Lebanese organized crime networks. Some are also said to have connections to ultra-conservative mosques.
Both the German government and the public have become more sensitive to anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents in recent months. A heated public debate broke out after a video showing a Berlin restaurant owner being subjected to anti-Semitic abuse went viral last December. In January, the German parliament created an anti-Semitism commissioner post.
In an interview with the Heilbronner Stimme newspaper last December, the former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, voiced concern over growing anti-Semitic sentiment in the country.