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EU slams Israel over Palestinian's case

BRUSSELS, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- A top EU official has rebuked Israel for convicting a Palestinian who has organized regular protests against the West Bank wall.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was "deeply concerned" about Abdallah Abu Rahmah, 39, who faces several years in an Israeli prison.

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Ashton said she fears that the possible imprisonment of Rahmah "is intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest against the existence of the separation barriers in a non-violent manner," her office said in a statement released last week.

The EU considers Rahmah a human rights activist and the route of the barrier where it is built on Palestinian land to be illegal, the statement added.

Israel denounced Ashton's statement. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that any "interference with a transparent legal procedure is highly improper," the BBC reports.

Ramah, a teacher, has been jailed since his arrest in December. An Israeli military court convicted him Tuesday for charges of inciting protests in the West Bank village of Bilin and of participating in them illegally. Rahmah is to be sentenced shortly but his lawyer said he will appeal the conviction.

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Palestinians have organized many demonstrations that remained largely peaceful but recently some of them turned violent, with police clashing with stone-throwing protesters.

Israeli police have cracked down hard on protesters; an American peace activist suffered brain damage after being hit by a tear gas canister.

Ashton has taken an active position regarding the Palestinian issue. In March, she became the first high-ranking Western official to visit Gaza since Hamas took over in 2007.

The European Union, the United States and the United Nations are trying to revive Middle East peace negotiations.

Since Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the EU and the United States, took over, Israel has upheld a blockade at the border to Gaza. Things worsened after a devastating military campaign Israel launched in December 2008 in response to Palestinian rocket attacks.

Israeli-EU relations were tested again when Gaza-bound aid convoy was stormed by Israeli troops in an operation that resulted in the deaths of at least nine people. Most of those killed were Turkish nationals, which sparked a serious conflict between Turkey and Israel and condemnations from many European capitals.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy issued strong statements condemning the incident, with Sarkozy criticizing what he said was a "disproportionate use of force." Germany, a close ally of Israel, publicly called on Israel to end the blockade of Gaza.

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