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Delegates nearly come to blows in Durban

Published Aug 29, 2001

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By Phindile Makwakwa

Tension between Palestinian and Israeli delegates attending the NGO Forum in Durban came to boiling point on Wednesday and only speedy police intervention averted a confrontation between them from turning violent.

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The clash between the Palestinian activists and a group of Jewish students took place at Kingsmead stadium, the venue of the NGO Forum where a session on anti-Semitism was being held. The NGO forum is being held prior to the World Conference Against Racism, which starts on Friday.

The confrontation, which took place outside the venue, saw the two groups shouting accusations at each other such as: "You kill our babies."

The session was temporarily abandoned and the police had to separate the two groups to prevent the clash from becoming violent.

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At a press briefing later, members of the Palestinian delegation called on the South African government to expel Israel's ambassador, Tova Herzl, as a first step to isolate Israel from the international community.

The delegation's head, Zeiad Abbas, who is also head of the Ibda cultural centre in the Dheisheh refugee camp in the West Bank, said he was sad at the South African government's lack of stronger support for the Palestinian cause.

"We don't see that support, you have the Israel embassy here. We see co-operation between the South African government and the Israeli government.

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"We know you still have a struggle in South Africa, but you can still continue with the international struggle against apartheid."

The Middle East Children's Alliance's Barbara Lubin said she did not believe the conference would come up with a practical solution to the Palestinian problem.

Lubin, an American Jew, said: "There are a lot of people in the US and Israel who are Jewish and who don't believe in a Jewish state.

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"A country which has a democracy for one group and not for the other cannot be a democratic state as Israel claims."

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