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Bethlehem journalists strike over PA use of force at rally

March 30, 2010 9:25 P.M. (Updated: March 31, 2010 11:49 P.M.)
Bethlehem – Ma'an – Palestinian journalists in Bethlehem will strike Tuesday, in response to Palestinian Authority security forces' decision to prevent press from covering protests in the city a day earlier.

A statement released by participating journalists said the protest would begin in front of the Bethlehem government headquarters at 10am, which would be followed by a meeting with the governor, Abdul Fattah Hamayil, who was present at Monday's rally. At the meeting, reporters will officially hand over a letter to the PA demanding that those security officers suspected of assaulting journalists be reprimanded.

If the PA fails to respond to the letter, journalists say they will boycott all Palestinian official visits in Bethlehem during Easter, particularly that of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Abdul Nasser An-Najjar, head of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, told Ma'an that he and the body's secretary-general fully support the protest.

On Monday, PA and Israeli forces cracked down on protesters at a Bethlehem rally who were voicing dissent against the continued detention of the Palm Sunday detainees, and marking Land Day.

Journalists said PA forces not only prevented them from covering the rally, but assaulted members of the press. Heated arguments ensued between journalists covering the incident and PA forces, resulting in a sit-in near Rachel's Tomb by journalists.

Fatah's Bethlehem spokesman Muhammad Lahham said "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.

Palm Sunday detentions

Israel detained 11 Palestinians participating in what observers called a peaceful protests on Palm Sunday over Israeli restrictions preventing Christians from participating in religious rites like the Triumphal Entry, marked on the Sunday before Easter when pilgrims retrace the steps of Jesus into Jerusalem before his crucifixion.

Dozens of protesters, joined by international peace activists and Muslim supporters, took to the streets after Sunday services in the Nativity Church.

Participants performed the symbolic march of Jesus Christ to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, carrying palm branches and banners denouncing Israel's wall and continued settlement expansion.

The rally reached the Gilo checkpoint, used predominantly by tourists and through which West Bankers can only pass with permission from Israel. Participants tried to transit the military installation before being barred by waiting Israeli soldiers. Border guards, some donning riot gear, were seen on the opposite side of the barrier.

When protesters took the opportunity to march through a gate in the wall, which had opened for the access of Israeli military vehicles into the West Bank, they continued on the path to Jerusalem but were detained by Israeli forces. Others were ordered to return to Bethlehem, on the far side of the separation wall.
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