HEBRON, West Bank – Hundreds of Palestinians attacked an international observer mission in this volatile city Wednesday, throwing stones and smashing windows as dozens of foreigners were trapped inside — the most violent West Bank protest yet against Danish cartoons seen as insulting to Islam.
At one point, rioters forced open a door of the building and got inside, and the unarmed observers waved clubs in an attempt to drive them off. Palestinian police, initially outnumbered, eventually pushed back the crowd, and the foreigners began leaving the city.
In the West Bank, meanwhile, an international observer force — the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, or TIPH — came under attack Wednesday by an angry crowd. TIPH was deployed in 1994 and serves as a buffer between Palestinians and Jewish settlers in the city.
Eleven Danish members of TIPH left more than a week ago after protests against the Danish cartoons began sweeping across the Muslim world, said TIPH spokeswoman Gunhild Forselv.
The protesters, most of them youths, chased away outnumbered Palestinian police who were stationed outside the mission more than a week ago because of the unrest, Forselv said.
But reinforcements were called in, and police took up position again, pushing back the protesters and regaining control of the situation. By that time, protesters had smashed nearly all of the windows in the mission's three-story office building, and battered three TIPH cars.
Israeli troops arrived at the site after the protest was subdued.
Forselv said all 60 members of the mission's foreign staff who had been inside the building had decided to leave Hebron for their own safety.
Caricatures first published in Denmark, then reprinted in various European newspapers, showed the Prophet Muhammad — itself an offense because Islamic tradition bars the depiction of the faith's founder. Fueling the outrage was one cartoon showing Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban.
The cartoons have touched off protests in the Mideast, Muslim countries in Southeast Asia and Europe, with aggrieved demonstrators issuing death calls and demanding a boycott of Danish and European goods.