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Israeli, PA forces disperse Bethlehem rally

March 29, 2010 6:12 P.M. (Updated: March 31, 2010 9:00 A.M.)
Bethlehem – Ma'an – Palestinian Authority and Israeli forces cracked down on protesters at a Bethlehem rally Monday protesting the continued detention of the Palm Sunday detainees, and marking Land Day.

More than 200 protesters joined the demonstration, organized by Fatah and PLO members, over the unprecedented detention of a high-ranking Fatah official on Sunday, Abbas Zaki, the first arrest of a high-ranking Palestinian official by Israeli forces during peace time.

Demonstrators included Fatah Central Committee member Jamal Muheisin, Palestinian National Initiative leader Mustafa Barghouti, Bethlehem Governor Abdul Fattah Hamayil, and heads of the popular committees in Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala and Hebron. Zaki's wife was also present.

The march began at the Bilal Ibn Rabah Mosque adjacent to Rachel's Tomb, reaching the Gilo checkpoint that separates Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the site of yesterday's detentions. Israeli soldiers manning the military installation fired tear-gas canisters and stun grenades toward protesters who, in turn, retaliated by pelting empty bottles and stones.

A spokesman for the Israeli police in the West Bank did not return calls seeking comment.

During the rally, Muheisin asserted the Palestinian right to non-violent resistance and condemned Israeli policy against Muslim and Christian sites and restrictions placed on Palestinian worshipers of both denominations on access to sites in Jerusalem to perform religious rites. "The day Israel destroys Al-Aqsa, Israel will be destroyed," he said.

Barghouti, who often attends anti-wall rallies in the West Bank, said "we came to Bethlehem today, and to this checkpoint that separates us from the city of Jerusalem, to affirm that we reject the apartheid wall, Judaization, and the new siege Israel has imposed on the Palestinians in Bethlehem and Jerusalem."

The detention of the Palm Sunday protesters, including Zaki, was a "tyrannical Israeli procedure," Barghouti said, aimed at deterring non-violent popular resistance. Such acts "will never stop resistance against the separation wall, settlement activity, and the siege ... Resistance will eventually triumph," he added.

Confrontations further erupted near Rachel's Tomb when PA forces intervened in the march, attacking protesters. Heated arguments ensued between journalists covering the incident and PA forces. Journalists began a sit-in near the tomb as a result.

Fatah's Bethlehem spokesman Muhammad Lahham told Ma'an that "Palestinian security behaved improperly, and despite the fact that we take into account security agreements with Israeli authorities, such assaults against journalists and protesters are never justified."

Lahham said he had spoken with Bethlehem Security Services chief Suleiman Umran, who ensured that a committee would be established to investigate the incident, vowing to prosecute any security officer found guilty of assault against journalists or protesters.
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