Middle East

French foreign minister mobbed by Gazans

Protesters mob Michele Alliot-Marie
Image caption Michele Alliot-Marie was misquoted by media outlets

Angry Palestinians have mobbed France's foreign minister and pelted her vehicle with eggs during a trip to Gaza, in an attack prompted by a media mix-up.

Michele Alliot-Marie was quoted as saying the five-year captivity of Israeli soldier Sgt Gilad Shalit by Hamas was a war crime.

The real source of the quote was the soldier's father.

But Hamas issued an angry statement, and crowds attacked her motorcade demanding that she leave Gaza.

The AFP news agency reported that two terrified children were flung to the ground in front of the wheels of the lead vehicle, where they lay crying for several minutes before being hauled away by their families.

Women and children were prominent among the demonstrators, holding banners proclaiming "Get out of Gaza", and "There is one Gilad Shalit, but also 7,000 Palestinian prisoners".

Ms Alliot-Marie later played down the protest, saying it was not very serious.

"Among the demonstrators were mothers whose sadness I can understand, but there were others who had other intentions," she told reporters.

Before travelling to Gaza, the minister had visited Noam Shalit, the father of Sgt Shalit, an Israeli-French dual national who was captured by Palestinian militants in June 2006.

Image caption Many of the protesters have relatives being held in Israeli prisons

After the meeting, Mr Shalit told reporters that she had promised to speak to the European Union and "to pass on the message that the prisoner should receive visits from the Red Cross".

He added: "Holding a hostage without allowing him to meet representatives of the Red Cross is a war crime."

Some media outlets, including Arab-language Israeli public radio, then attributed the comment to Ms Alliot-Marie.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said her reported comments reflected a "total bias toward Israel" and ignored the thousands of Palestinians held by Israel.

"They are the true prisoners of war," he said.

While in Gaza, the French minister issued an impassioned call for an end to Israel's blockade of the impoverished Palestinian territory.

"The blockade of Gaza breeds poverty and fuels violence. In the spirit of the values of freedom and dignity that we share, France calls on Israel to stop it," she said, quoted by AFP.

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