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Protesters challenge village closures

March 19, 2010 2:47 P.M. (Updated: March 21, 2010 9:15 A.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - Palestinian and international protesters joined half a dozen demonstrations across the occupied West Bank on Friday afternoon, in the first reaction to Israel's declaration of two villages as "closed military zones" last week.

An American citizen was seriously injured after being struck in the arm by Israeli fire in Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, onlookers said.

Her colleagues from the International Solidarity Movement later identified her as Ellen Stark. An ISM statement said she was "shot from less than four meters away with a rubber bullet, which lodged in her left arm, breaking her wrist."

She was evacuated for medical attention by the Red Crescent, an Israeli military spokesman said. He described the woman's injuries as light, and said they were caused by the use of riot-dispersal means. He said the injury came during "the violent and illegal riot near Dir Nizam, during which rocks were hurled toward security forces."

Stark told ISM they were "standing on Palestinian land, in support of the village who’s land has been confiscated but we weren’t even demonstrating yet. We were standing with medics who were also shot with tear gas."

Two clash sites were reported in the village, one at the entrance and a second near the illegal Israeli settlement of Hallamish. Witnesses said dozens of young men from nearby villages arrived and threw rocks at soldiers and the military tower at the entrance to the town. Locals said forces had to call reserve units in from the settlement, and fired tear-gas canisters and rubber-coated bullets at both locations.

During the protest, Palestinian journalist Deif Allah At-Tamimi sustained wounds in the head, while Omer At-Tamimi, 25, Amjad Abed Al-Hafith At-Tamimi, 21, and an American citizen were detained, locals said. The army spokesman confirmed that three people were being held for security questioning in the same area.

According to the ISM, Omar Saleh Tamimi, Amjad Abed Alkhafeez Tamimi and ISM co-founder Huwaida Arraf were arrested "as they asked Israeli military personnel to stop firing tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at Stark as she was helped to safety."

The organization identified Alkhatib Mahmud Tamimi, 87, and Nariman Tamimi, mother of four, as two of the injured who were treated on site, and 17-year-old Raaft Ahmad, who the statement said was hospitalized after being shot above the eye with a rubber-coated bullet.

Locals corroborated the injury of Raaft, who was evacuated to the Ramallah Government Hospital.

Witnesses said the windowpanes of several homes in the area were shattered by rubber-coated bullets, reportedly fired at random at the homes. Locals said the house of Abed Ar-Rahman At-Tamimi suffered severe damage.

Budrus

Eleven kilometers southwest in Budrus, two unidentified persons who demonstrators said were photojournalists were briefly detained. Later, protesters said negotiations with soldiers on the scene secured their release.

The army confirmed that two people were detained and released soon after, but had no comment on how their release was secured. They were originally detained for throwing rocks, the army official said, and there was no indication they were journalists.

Locals identified the detained man as a correspondent and cameraman of Palestine TV, who was held forsix hours.

Clashes erupted in Budrus after demonstrators said a high-ranking village leader had also been detained, but the military denied that arrest. Initial reports identified the purported Palestinian detainee as the village mayor.

Ni'lin

In Nil'in, a further three kilometers south along the route of Israel's separation wall, protesters arrived at the site of the Israeli separation barrier despite the army's insistence that no demonstration would be permitted. Israeli forces opened fire with tear gas at the protesters, but there were no reports of injury.

The army spokesman confirmed that forces used riot-dispersal means, describing the event as a violent and illegal riot. He said Palestinians threw rocks at Border Police guards stationed behind the barrier, which is still under construction.

Bil'in

In Bil'in, four soldiers entered the area between the barrier and village, firing tear gas and stun grenades, protesters said. The invasion came just after Israeli forces announced that demonstrators had three minutes to depart the scene. Protesters left shortly thereafter.

Secretary-General of the Palestinian National Initiative and former PLC member Mustafa Al-Barghuthi, as well as Palestinian Liberation Front politburo member Hesham Abu Raya both joined in the protest, condemning the Israeli decision to declare the area a closed military zone.

"Barring Palestinian villagers from their land is an illegitimate move, and the declaration of a closed military zone is an illegal act of occupation which we will retain the right to resist," Barghouthi told protesters.

In Ma'asara, near Bethlehem, an anti-wall demonstration ended peacefully, according to organizers.

The afternoon of demonstrations came days after the Israeli military declared Nil'in and Bil'in, two strongholds of the anti-wall movement, closed military zones. The designation banned entry between 8am and 8pm each Friday for a six-month period.

The announcement was made amid one of the most violent weeks recorded in the West Bank in the past few years, according to a UN report released Friday. Some 221 Palestinians and 17 members of the Israeli security forces were wounded in several demonstrations and clashes, the large majority of which took place in East Jerusalem and its vicinity.

The week's number of Palestinian injuries is the highest recorded in a week since the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs, which issued the report, began recording casualties in 2005. None of the clashes, however, resulted in fatalities.
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