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Israeli soldiers seize journalist, demonstrators at settler rally

Oct. 16, 2008 3:40 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 6, 2010 5:11 A.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - Dozens of Israeli settlers took over an abandoned Israeli military base near Bethlehem for several hours on Thursday, Ma'an correspondents reported from the scene.

Six people were detained during the takeover of the former Osh Ghurab post in Beit Sahour, a town near the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Two Palestinians and four internationals were seized there, according to witnesses. One of the Palestinians reportedly detained at the rally is editor-in-chief of a news agency headquartered in Bethlehem.

The two Palestinians were identified as journalist Sami Awad and 26-year-old Salim Anfous. Also seized were four internationals: Jason Pollack, of the United States, 24-year-old Sarah Venturini of Italy, an unnamed man from the United Kingdom and a 25-year-old from the United States.

During the arrests, several witnesses said and a videotape confirmed that Israeli police and border guards wrestled the demonstrators to the ground, in one case twisting a detainee's arm behind his back and pushing his face into the dirt.

The six were held nearby for several hours. Five of the detainees were released shortly after the settlers left the area, seemingly in coordination with the Israeli military. The British man is still being held in an undisclosed location on the charge of striking a police officer. Video footage of the incident and witness accounts suggest that the man was taking photos at the time of the arrests.

During the rally, soldiers scaled a local Palestinian family's house overlooking the area. Troops stood guard from the rooftop, which according to Palestinians in the neighborhood, belongs to the Hijazin family.

Israeli soldiers also erected a checkpoint leading to the former base, blocking access to the surrounding roads in an apparent attempt to protect the group that was operating illegally in the West Bank.

Witnesses reported widescale physical abuse at the hands of Israeli soldiers while Ma'an's correspondents said troops made concerted efforts to keep journalists far from the scene, blocking access to the settlers' event itself.

However, Israeli forces did not prevent settlers from entering the area on Thursday. Witnesses say settlers marched throughout the base, celebrating the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. No arrests of settlers were immediately reported. In fact, Jewish groups involved said that the event was coordinated with the Israeli military in advance.

Two groups, the Committee for Jewish Shdema and Women in Green reportedly confirmed to Israel National News that the rally's "festivities were authorized by the IDF, who provided security."

Asked to show documentation of the military order closing the area, Israeli troops presented a document in Hebrew with a map designating the hilltop base as off limits, but not the valley and streambed where the demonstrators were seized.

Ma'an had previously obtained reports on Wednesday that members of the Israeli Knesset planned to be among those at the event, though it was not apparent by Thursday evening if the politicians had actually joined the group.

***Updated 20:15 Bethlehem time
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