The bitter unionist-nationalist divide over the bloodshed in the Middle East deepened at the weekend.
While more protestors took to the streets of Belfast to demand an end to Israel’s actions in Gaza, unionists in various parts of the Province objected to nationalist displays of support for the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama yesterday phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express his “serious and growing concern” about the number of Palestinian civilian deaths in the conflict.
UKIP councillor Henry Reilly accused the mayor of Newry and Mourne, Sinn Fein councillor Daire Hughes, of breaching the mayor’s apolitical role when he wrote a letter to a string of large-scale retailers, saying that he had been lobbied by constituents about the “sale of Israel products (sic)”, and telling them that trading with Israel could be regarded as tacit support for its actions in Gaza.
He went on: “I am aware that supermarkets in the Newry and Mourne area stock a wide range of products, including fruit and vegetables, so I would request a list of all products you stock from Israel and the occupied territories”.
Mr Reilly said: “This letter has been sent from the Mayor although the Mayor is not allowed to do anything political during his period in office — and he has done this as mayor.” His concerns were echoed by the DUP’s Jim Wells, who said it was “a bit rich” for Sinn Fein to lecture retailers on human rights, since the IRA had blown up retailers.
And there was criticism of a decision to fly a Palestinian flag from a store in Kilkeel.
Mr Hughes said: “I understand that while there is a molecule of outrage from some unionist councillors in the area and not all, the councillors responsible had suggested I was calling for a boycott. I wasn’t calling for anything that would negatively affect their business.”
He said he wanted to give constituents a list of non-Israeli products.
When asked about his political stance, he said: “As far as I am concerned it is not exclusively a political issue. It is a moral and a humanitarian issue. One thousand people have been killed, both Palestinian and Israeli and people are angry, they are reacting and asking questions. The support that I have received both nationally and internationally is phenomenal”.
Meanwhile, a shopowner in Kilkeel yesterday defended his decision to wrap a Palestinian flag around a Christmas tree on the roof of his premises.
The decision by Martin Ward to display the flag on his Rockmount shop and filling station on the Rathfriland Road Newry has been criticised by Henry Reilly, who said it is “causing considerable anxiety for a number of employees in the shop and insult to many people who live in the area who have contacted me to express their concern”.
Mr Reilly said he wrote to Musgrave LTD, which manages the Centra brand.
“They have replied that it is not their policy to fly such flags and have asked Mr Ward to remove the flag but he has refused,” said Mr Reilly.
Yesterday, when contacted by the News Letter, Mr Ward said he had been contacted by Centra about the flag – and that he is not taking it down.
“I am working on my own principle here,” he said. “I won’t be dictated to. I am doing it for myself and for those people [in Gaza]. I am not politically affiliating this – it is about basic human life.
“I would love to take down the flag when I hear on the news that they decide to have a ceasefire and decide to talk to each other and stop slaughtering each other.
“I have the flag on the roof of the premises sitting on the frame of a Christmas tree. Gaza and Israel is the Holy Land where the whole Bible came from and this is happening in that land. People need to wake up to why this is happening. The Christmas tree is to recognise Christians around the world.”