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Palestinians Pelt French Premier

February 26, 2000

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ Palestinian students pelted the French prime minister with stones today, sending him fleeing for cover in his Mercedes during a protest against his apparent support for Israel in its battle against militants in southern Lebanon.

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who was not injured, angered Palestinians and Lebanese by referring to attacks by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas against Israeli soldiers as ``terrorist″ activity.

Jospin was attacked after a speech at Bir Zeit University outside the West Bank town of Ramallah, site of demonstrations earlier this week in support of Hezbollah.

When Jospin arrived at the university, some 2,000 students protested, some carrying a banner reading, ``From Bir Zeit to Beirut, We are One People.″ As he entered an auditorium for his speech, students chanted, ``Go away, you are a traitor!″

Though Jospin delivered his speech with few interruptions, a student stood up afterwards and told him, ``We consider you a traitor.″ The student was then hustled out of the hall by Palestinian police.

When Jospin emerged from the building, a hail of rocks came at him from all sides. French and Palestinian security agents surrounded him and held briefcases over his head to protect him as they bundled him into his waiting Mercedes. Some students jumped on the hood of the car before it drove off.

A member of the French delegation said Jospin was ``very, very lightly″ grazed by a stone, but was not hurt. Jospin later smiled and told journalists, ``In situations like this, one has to keep ahead of such things and accept them quietly.″

While Bir Zeit administrators shut down the university, a Palestinian security official speaking on condition of anonymity said a police investigation has already begun and arrests are expected.

Faten Eilwan, a third year media student at Bir Zeit, said students representing all groups, including Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization and the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas participated in the protest. Hamas controls the student council in Bir Zeit.

In his speech to the students, Jospin had tried to strike a balance concerning France’s position on Lebanon.

``We condemn Israeli attacks against civilians in Lebanon, ″ Jospin said. He said his government was opposed to expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and called for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Later, Palestinian officials apologized to Jospin for the attack as they greeted him in Gaza City before a meeting with Arafat. The Palestinian Legislative Council condemned the attack and called the students who threw stones ``unnationalistic.″

The French premier, who has been on a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories this week, told a news conference Thursday that France ``condemns Hezbollah attacks, and any terrorist attacks, notably against soldiers or the civilian population.″ He also urged Israel to avoid attacking civilian targets in Lebanon.

France is the former colonial master of Lebanon and Syria.

Syria today urged France to clarify Jospin’s remarks. The official Tishrin newspaper expressed fear that Israeli leaders would ``take advantage″ of the remarks to strike again at Lebanese civilian infrastructure.

Earlier this month, Israel bombed civilian power stations in Lebanon in a flare-up in fighting with Hezbollah guerrillas, who had killed seven Israeli soldiers in the Israeli-occupied zone in the preceding weeks.

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