- Associated Press - Friday, January 21, 2011

EREZ CROSSING, Gaza Strip (AP) — Palestinian protesters hurled eggs Friday at French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie during a visit to Gaza and narrowly missed hitting her with a shoe because they mistakenly believed she had called the capture of an Israeli soldier a “war crime.”

The remark had actually been made by the soldier’s father after meeting the French minister a day earlier in his campaign to win the release of his son, Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, who was captured in a 2006 cross-border raid by militants with ties to Hamas.

A member of the minister’s entourage was hit in the head and later examined at an Israeli hospital, according to the spokeswoman’s office at Barzilai Medical Center in the city of Ashkelon, just north of Gaza. Spokeswoman Lea Malul identified her as Valerie Hoffenberg, a French envoy involved in the Mideast peace process.

Dozens of protesters, relatives of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, were waiting for Ms. Alliot-Marie as she crossed from Israel into Gaza through the Erez Crossing, lying on the road and jumping on her vehicle. They pelted her motorcade with eggs and lobbed a shoe.

Hamas police eventually dispersed those protesters, but more gathered outside a United Nations office in Gaza City that was her first stop in the Palestinian territory, and later followed her to a nearby hospital, pelting her motorcade with eggs. AP Television News footage showed Ms. Alliot-Marie narrowly dodging a shoe thrown by a protester as she climbed into a jeep under heavy guard.

Sgr. Shalit, the captive soldier, is an Israeli-French dual national and France has repeatedly called for his release.

Ms. Alliot-Marie made no public statement Thursday after meeting with Schalit’s parents in Jerusalem, but the soldier’s father, Noam Shalit, said afterward that the minister had called on Hamas to allow the Red Cross to visit his son for the first time. He referred to his son’s capture as a “war crime.”

The Palestinians mistakenly linked the comments to Ms. Alliot-Marie, although she did not say anything publicly before or after the meeting.

In Paris, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed that Ms. Alliot-Marie was not the source of the comments.

Ms. Alliot-Marie’s visit to Gaza was the first by a French foreign minister since 2005, ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said. “She is in Gaza today precisely to mark France’s engagement in favor of the Gazan population.”

Earlier, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the statements attributed to Ms. Allio-Marie reflected a “total bias toward Israel” and ignored the thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. “They are the true prisoners of war,” he said.

Hamas is demanding that Israel release hundreds of Hamas prisoners, including militants behind deadly attacks against Israelis, in return for Sgt. Shalit. Talks facilitated by a German mediator have produced no result. Sgt. Shalit has been seen by no one but his captors since 2006. A videotape released in 2009 showed him talking and reading a newspaper.

In keeping with the policy of the European Union, which considers Hamas a terror organization, Ms. Alliot-Marie did not meet with Hamas officials during her half-day visit.

Speaking at a French cultural center in Gaza, Ms. Alliot-Marie called for the establishment of a Palestinian state and security for Israel. She also called on Israel to fully lift all restrictions on goods and people coming and out of Gaza.

Greg Keller contributed to this report from Paris.

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