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Israeli army shuts down 'illegal' Palestinian protests

May 27, 2011 7:42 P.M. (Updated: May 29, 2011 9:39 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces shut down anti-wall protests in villages across the West Bank on Friday.

The Israeli army says the unarmed weekly protests in Palestinian villages are illegal.

Asked why the protests were illegal, an army spokesman said the areas between Israel's separation wall and villages Ni'lin and Bil'in, near Ramallah, were declared "closed military zones" every Friday between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Any civilian who entered the area was breaking Israeli law, the army official said,

Palestinians, Israelis and foreign nationals join protests every Friday in villages along Israel's separation wall, which runs deep inside the West Bank and confiscates villagers' land.

The International Court of Justice and Israel's Supreme Court have ruled that the route of the wall is illegal under international law.

In Nil'in, the wall cuts off around one third of the village. On May 20, protesters marked the third anniversary of non-violent protests against the wall. Since 2008, Israeli forces have killed five Palestinians and injured hundreds more at demonstrations in the village.

On Friday, the army installed a checkpoint at the entrance to Ni'lin, stopping activists from joining the rally. Troops fired tear-gas grenades into fields, setting fire to over 100 olive trees, witnesses said.

At a simultaneous rally in Nabi Saleh, soldiers declared a closed military zone and detained 6 protesters for entering the area and "hurling rocks" at forces, an Israeli military spokeswoman said.

In Al-Ma'sara, south of Bethlehem, more than 30 international activists joined the weekly demonstration against the wall, but Israeli forces shut down the rally.

Popular committee coordinator Mahmud Zawahra said villagers would continue to protest Israel's confiscation of their land "despite Israel's suppression."

Israeli forces frequently raid villages which participate in non-violent resistance and detain protest organizers and residents, including children.

In Ni'lin, entering its fourth year of protests, popular committee member Salah Khawaja said that despite Israel's military campaign against the village, the demonstrations would continue.

"We lost five people, 700 have been injured and 150 arrested, many of them children.

"But we vow to continue and to bring more people to our strategy of non-violent resistance. We saw in Egypt what can be achieved when the people work together," Khawaja said.

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