- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Foreign nationals who work in the West Bank are remaining out of sight until local outrage against Westerners subsides, after Israel’s seizure of a group of high-profile Palestinian militants from a jail in Jericho.

The precautionary measures are a sign that the assaults, common in the Gaza Strip, have become a concern in cities such as Ramallah, which has a sizable presence of foreigners. Unlike the exodus from Gaza, however, expatriates say they are remaining in Ramallah and nearby Jerusalem in the hope that the situation will improve.

Diplomatic missions and nongovernmental organizations remained closed for a second day in the West Bank after a wave of rioting and abductions.

Palestinians were angered by the Tuesday arrest of Ahmed Saadat, a militant leader whom Israel accuses in the 2001 assassination of a Cabinet minister.

Foreigners were reported abducted in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Nablus. Ramallah rioters broke into building of the British Council and assaulted the local headquarters of the London-based HSBC bank.

“In Ramallah, we’ve never had things like this. This was kind of an alarm signal,” said Thomas Birringer, the local representative to the Palestinian Authority from Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

At the direction of the German Embassy, the Konrad Adenauer staff remained in Jerusalem.

“I’m not 100 percent sure that this is necessary, but it is a directive,” Mr. Birringer said. “Most Palestinians don’t agree with people kidnapping foreigners. But it is frightening how quickly the situation could escalate if there is a small reason. We are very careful.”

Gunmen have made a practice of abducting foreigners as a way of negotiating with Palestinian officials for jobs, but those assaults have taken on a more political dimension in the past few weeks since a Danish newspaper published a cartoon lampooning the prophet Muhammad.

As angry youths tossed computers and office equipment out of the British Council office here on Tuesday, British national Simon Boas watched from his office across the street and snapped pictures of the crowd outside with a cell phone.

“It was saddening but not exactly surprising,” he said, noting that the Palestinian police did little to stop the lawlessness.

Mr. Boas, an employee of an economic policy institute, blamed his government in the flare-up. Israel sent in troops on Tuesday, when the United States and Britain pulled out observers who had been overseeing Saadat’s imprisonment in Jericho as part of a four-year-old deal with Israel and the Palestinians.

Heather Bursheh, an eight-year Ramallah resident who is married to a Palestinian and works at a local music conservatory, ignored a call from the British Embassy advising her to leave. Still, for the past two days she has taken taxis around the city instead of walking.

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