British Envoy Proud' of Critical Comments Made Against Israel

The British ambassador to Israel, Sherard Cowper-Coles, says he is "proud" of his comments that were published yesterday and in which he described the West Bank and Gaza Strip as "the biggest detention camp in the world."

In the report, Cowper-Coles is attributed with accusing Israel of contravening the Geneva Convention and the Israel Defense Forces of displaying a "lack of professionalism," during a leaked conversation last week with IDF Major General Amos Gilad, coordinator of government activities in the territories.

Cowper-Coles told Ha'aretz yesterday that the comments, reported in the Yedioth Ahronot daily, were "exaggerated, but broadly true."

The ambassador also criticized Israel for continuing to build settlements, for "the unnecessary humiliation and harassment" of the local civilian population at checkpoints, unnecessarily uprooting trees and making life difficult for the international welfare organizations, according to the report.

Cowper-Coles says he did not regret his comments, which were made "in the spirit of friendship." He said he was "very shocked" by what he has seen in the territories, "as anyone else who visited there would be."

"Anyone who is a friend of Israel would say what I said," he told Ha'aretz, "because [it is clear the situation] is certainly not good for the Palestinians, or for Israel."

The comments reported in Yedioth Ahronot were made during a "private conversation," with Gilad, on instructions from London, and followed an earlier meeting with the Israeli general in the British capital last month, says Cowper-Coles.

He added the source of the leak - "the Foreign Ministry or someone" - was "very selective" in what he chose to reveal of the conversation with Gilad that lasted for more than an hour.

Cowper-Coles says his many references to the suffering of Israelis due to terrorism, security pressures and difficulties relating to pulling out of the territories were not conveyed. "It's a pity because it's not the whole truth." If it emerges that someone in the Foreign Ministry leaked the story, Cowper-Coles said, "it certainly won't increase my respect" of the ministry. "We don't believe in megaphone diplomacy."

The ambassador, who has learned to speak a competent level of Hebrew since arriving here just over a year ago, has been widely interviewed on Israeli television and radio.

He was recently praised for the sensitivity he displayed when dealing with Israeli terror victims and their families.

Yesterday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said the ministry had adopted a "serious view" of Cowper-Coles's remarks.