Chile. Tourists trapped
Photo: Reuters
Striking diplomats
Israeli tourists trapped in Chile
Diplomats' strike leaves dozens of tourists stuck in southern city with nowhere to turn for help

Israeli tourists who have been stuck for three days in the southern Chilean city of Puerto Natales will probably not be receiving any aid in the near future due to an ongoing strike in the Foreign Ministry.


Tzvi Apple, who is currently unable to leave the city due to a protest over gas prices, told Ynet Friday he had tried to make contact with the ministry but succeeded only in reaching a recorded message telling him to call the Finance Ministry.


Apple added that around 1,000 tourists are trapped inside the national park adjacent to Puerto Natales, home to the famous Torres del Paine trek. He says locals who knew of the protests neglected to inform travelers of its imminence.


Altogether a few dozen Israelis share Apple's fate, he said, adding that they had tried to appeal to Israel's embassy in Chile. "They won't help us because of the strike," he said.


Foreign Ministry employees began protesting a year ago, but have recently toughened their stance, launching a staff strike which has seriously hampered operations at both the ministry and at Israeli embassies around the world.


"Since December 27, we are no longer helping with any official visits, whether it be by Israeli officials going overseas or foreign dignitaries in Israel," said Hanan Goder, head of the workers' union at the foreign ministry.


One of the most high profile casualties of the strike has been Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who was forced to delay a visit to Israel in January.


Medvedev, who was to have come with a large delegation of businessmen, abruptly called off the trip while pressing ahead with plans to visit the Palestinian territories in what was a huge embarrassment to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.


Such a thing has never happened before in Israel's 63-year history.


An upcoming visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, scheduled for the end of January, looks set to befall the same fate.


"Our overseas diplomats have been told not to send diplomatic messages to the ministry, nor to wear their traditional diplomatic attire while attending official functions, nor to issue any entry visas to Israel," Goder told AFP.


Earlier this month, hundreds of ministry employees held a demonstration in Jerusalem, all wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan: "I am a penniless diplomat."

Junior diplomats start on a salary of 4,800 shekels and only after 10 years does their salary rise to 5,800 shekels. They receive no extra stipends for their marital partners.


The union is demanding a pay increase of 25 percent, saying the salaries should reflect the high-profile nature of the job. So far, the finance ministry has rejected their demands.


Ronen Medzini and AFP contributed to this report



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