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Britain Says it Feared for Prison Monitors' Safety


The British government says American and British monitors at a West Bank prison had to be withdrawn because their lives were in danger. Israel raided the prison after the monitors left, triggering widespread Palestinian violence.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has told parliament he had been worried for more than a year about the safety of the prison monitors who were removed on Tuesday.

Straw says the Palestinian Authority had promised security guarantees for the monitors, but he says those pledges were broken. The foreign secretary also condemned the violence that has erupted over the matter, including the firebombing of the British Council office in Gaza.

"I must emphasize the government's condemnation of today's appalling acts of violence," Straw says. "They are totally unwarranted. I am glad to tell the House that all United Kingdom monitors and other employees of the British government are safe. We are currently advising against all travel to the Occupied Territories."

Straw says the Palestinians and Israelis were informed last week that the removal of the prison monitors could be imminent, but it was too dangerous to give them the precise timing.

"If we gave notice, we could end up with a situation where our own monitors were themselves subject of kidnap or siege inside the prison. We could not give either the Palestinians nor the Israelis advance notice," Straw says.

As Straw spoke, the foreign office released a letter that had been sent to Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas last week complaining about weak security at the Jericho prison. The letter said the monitoring mission would be terminated if the problems were not fixed.

The letter also alluded to the pending government handover to Hamas, the militant group that won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January. It said Hamas's pledge to release the Jericho prisoners raised questions about the political sustainability of the monitoring mission.

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