By Stephen Farrell and Ali Sawafta
JALAZONE CAMP, West Bank (Reuters)
Prince William paid the first official British royal visit to the Palestinian Territories on Wednesday, touring a refugee camp and telling Palestinians “you have not been forgotten”
It was one of the most politically sensitive visits yet undertaken by the prince, on a day which took him from the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv to the hilltop offices of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank.
William, who is second in line to the throne, received red-carpet treatment as he inspected an honour guard at the Muqata, Abbas’s headquarters.
“My sentiments are the same as yours in hoping that there is a lasting peace in the region,” the prince told Abbas.
Later, at a speech at the residence of the British Consul-General in Jerusalem, he told a gathering of Palestinian civil society, business and religious leaders:
“My message tonight is that you have not been forgotten. It has been a very powerful experience to meet you and other Palestinians living in the West Bank, and to hear your stories.”
He added: “I hope that through my being here and understanding the challenges you face, the links of friendship and mutual respect between the Palestinian and British people will grow stronger.”
After his meeting with Abbas, the prince drove to Jalazone refugee camp to visit a health centre and a school, both run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
More than 9,000 Palestinian refugees live in Jalazone, a crowded cluster of cinderblock and concrete buildings that borders a large Israeli settlement.
Security was tight along the route, with armed Palestinian security men along the road, and standing on rooftops.
A sign banning weapons – a picture of a Kalashnikov assault rifle with a red line through it – was prominently displayed on the door of the clinic, and the cries of babies echoed through its corridors.
REFUGEE CAMP SCHOOL, CLINIC
The prince watched as babies received checkups and vaccinations. “Is this your first child,” he asked Suhair Moussa, a camp resident holding her one-month-old daughter, Naifa. Upon hearing that the child was her fifth, he said, “So you are well used to this now.”
The mood inside the clinic was upbeat, and the prince was cheered and applauded as he left. But one Palestinian outside the clinic voiced anger at the legacy of Britain’s colonial-era involvement in the Holy Land, which ended in 1948.
He cited the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which the then British government expressed its support for “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.
This year Israelis celebrated the 70th anniversary of their Independence Day, but Palestinians lamented what they call the Nakba, or “Catastrophe”, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes or fled the violence that culminated in war between newly created Israel and its Arab neighbours in May 1948.
Nasser Migdad, 44, a refugee who was born in Jalazone, said that if he had a chance to meet the prince, “I would tell him that you are responsible for the Palestinian Nakba. Through the Balfour Declaration you brought the Jews to us.”
The prince encountered no such negative sentiments at his next engagement, a meeting with pupils at an UNRWA girls school in the camp.
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