Prague locals want to oust Palestinian embassy

KAREL JANICEK Associated Press Published:

PRAGUE (AP) -- Relations between Palestinians and the Czech Republic took a nosedive Friday after residents voiced concerns over the discovery of illegal weapons found at the Palestinian embassy complex where a booby-trapped safe killed the ambassador.

The mayor of the Suchdol district, where the Palestinian embassy complex is based, said he would lodge complaints with Czech authorities.

"We have lost trust in the diplomats," Mayor Petr Hejl told The Associated Press Friday after receiving complaints from neighbors. "We feel deceived by them."

Ambassador Jamal al-Jamal, 56, died Wednesday after an embassy safe exploded. The career diplomat had only started his posting in October.

Police said they found unspecified illegal weapons in the new complex, which includes the embassy and the ambassador's residence where the safe exploded.

Police spokeswoman Andrea Zoulova said Friday it was not yet clear why the Palestinians had the weapons there. She would not say how many weapons were found or how old they were.

The Foreign Ministry said Friday it was seeking an explanation from the Palestinians.

Telephone messages and emails to the Palestinian Embassy spokesman in Prague were not immediately returned Friday, which is holy day for Muslims.

The Czech Republic was one of the few countries that voted against the recognition of a Palestinian state in the United Nations last year and is an ally of Israel in the European Union.

Still, the Czechs tolerate the diplomatic status of the Palestinian representation that goes back to the Cold War when the Soviet bloc, including communist Czechoslovakia, had warm ties with the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Jakub Zahora of Prague's Association for International Affairs said the incident could harm the Czech relations with the Palestinians and dig up old skeletons.

The two main questions in the investigation are: why were there unregistered weapons at the embassy and what caused the safe to explode?

Palestinian officials have said the safe had been inside the offices of the PLO when it had a presence in Prague more than 20 years ago.

"It might lead to the expulsion of the ambassador's successor and even to the closure of the mission here," Zahora said. "The question remains how this incident will be used by Israel."