Sarajevo mayor Benjamina Karic has clashed publicly with Israeli ambassador Galit Peleg after she was among thousands of people to take part in a pro-Palestine rally in the Bosnian capital on October 22.
Following a smaller protest last weekend, Sunday’s demonstration numbered several thousand people, who called for an immediate end to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.
Demonstrators carried Palestinian and Bosnian flags, as well as banners saying "Stop the war" and "Free Palestine”. One large banner read "Yesterday Srebrenica, today Gaza”, a reference to the massacre of around 8,000 Muslim men and boys during the Bosnian war in 1995.
There is sympathy for the Palestinian cause, especially among Bosnia’s Muslim population, many of whom still have traumatic memories of the wars in their country in the 1990s. Around 11,000 people were killed by Serb forces during the siege of Sarajevo in 1992-96.
Addressing the crowd, Karic said Sarajevo knew "how it is to live without water and food and see children being killed", reported Reuters.
Peleg, the Israeli ambassador to Albania and Bosnia, responded by urging Karic to condemn Hamas.
“If you support #Palestinians why don't you condemn #Hamas?" she wrote on X (formerly Twitter), tagging Karic.
“Hamas committed MASSACRE in Israel and then use Palestinians in #Gaza as human sheilds. 550 (!) Hamas rockets launched at Israel fell in Gaza, killed Palestinians, including #AlAhliHospital. #HamasislSIS #Sarajevo”.
The Sarajevo mayor responded, also on X, accusing Peleg of making false claims.
“Sarajevo’s mayor, Benjamina Karic, has clearly condemned the killing of innocent civilians since the conflict began. We reject any attempts to discredit the mayor and the city of Sarajevo. No one, including the Israeli ambassador, can dictate the city’s official stance, we won’t fall under any pressures,” Karic wrote.
“We urge the above-mentioned ambassador to focus on seeking solutions for the well-being of both innocent Israelis and Palestinians, rather than spreading misinformation.”
Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel two weeks ago, killing around 1,400 Israelis to date. In Israel's counteroffensive, over 4,600 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the health ministry that is controlled by Hamas. Israel has announced that it will step up its air strikes.
The conflict has divided Bosnian politicians and sparked mixed reactions across the Western Balkans, where Muslims are in the majority in Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo, and there are Muslim minorities in other countries.
As well as the protest in Sarajevo, smaller demonstrations took place in the Serbian capital Belgrade on October 22 and in the Albania capital Tirana on October 20, despite the Albanian leadership condemning Hamas’ attack on Israel.
The chairman of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, Zeljko Komsic, clashed with Peleg earlier in October after he criticised Bosnian Prime Minister Borjana Kristo’s support for Israel and condemnation of Hamas’ attack.
In an interview with public broadcaster BHT1, Komsic accused Kristo of having “carelessly and selfishly published a message on social networks, disregarding the suffering of the Palestinian people”.
When Peleg asked Komsic on which side of history he wanted to be remembered, he responded by calling her a “manipulated but also malicious fool”.