Israeli troops raid West Bank TV stations

February 29, 2012 - 10:26 AM
Mideast Israel Palestinians

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, left, visits the offices of al-Watan TV after an Israeli army pre-dawn raid in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. A Palestinian broadcaster says Israeli troops raided his TV station, seizing transmission equipment, computers and documents. Computer screen on right shows an Israeli soldier during the raid. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Israeli troops raided two private Palestinian TV stations before dawn Wednesday, seizing transmitters and other equipment, the military said.

The military said one of the outlets, al-Watan TV, is a pirate station whose frequencies interfered with legal broadcasters and aircraft communications. It said several transmitters were confiscated in the operation initiated by Israel's Communications Ministry.

The military also confirmed a second raid at Jerusalem Educational TV, a Ramallah-based station owned by the Palestinians' Al Quds University, but did not elaborate.

Palestinian officials denounced the raids as aggression and violation of media freedom.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad visited al-Watan later Wednesday and said the raid undermined his government. Fayyad heads the Palestinian Authority, which runs the Palestinian self-rule areas that cover 38 percent of West Bank territory.

"This is a clear aggression against what remains of the Palestinian Authority," Fayyad said, urging international Mideast mediators to get Israel to halt the raids.

Al-Watan station director Moammar Orabi said about 30 soldiers entered the station before dawn. The TV frequently reports on Palestinian protests against Israeli policies in the West Bank. It is owned by three non-governmental associations, including the Palestinian Medical Relief Society headed by legislator Mustafa Barghouti.

"This is an act of repression of the freedom of the media in Palestine, and of repression of the popular resistance that we believe in," Barghouti said. Popular resistance is a term Palestinians use for anti-Israel marches and demonstrations.

Ramallah is part of the Palestinian self-rule areas, but Israeli forces still routinely conduct raids here.

Also Wednesday, an Israeli army commander defended the actions of his soldiers in the fatal shooting of a Palestinian protester last week.

The commander said soldiers told him the man threw firecrackers from about 20 yards (meters), in a cloud of smoke, and that they feared for their lives. Even so, he said the military has opened a formal investigation into the incident. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with briefing rules.

Talat Ramia was killed last Friday in a clash in a West Bank suburb of Jerusalem between about a dozen soldiers and a group of Palestinian stone throwers. Palestinian witness Najati Bakhtan said one of the soldiers fell to the ground after being hit by firecrackers and then aimed his rifle at Ramia, 25, firing several rounds.

Bakhtan said some of the soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets, instead of live rounds, to disperse the protest.

In another development, Israeli authorities issued demolition orders against foreign-funded solar panels and wind turbines that have provided small Palestinian herding communities with electricity, according to one of the donors, the German-based group medico international.

Israeli volunteers, using funds from the German government and other foreign donors, have installed the panels and turbines in 16 herders' hamlets in recent years because Israel refuses to link them to the electricity grid, arguing that the herders have no legal claims to the land. The hamlets are in the southern West Bank and are part of the 62 percent of the West Bank territory that mains under sole Israeli control.

Palestinians and Israeli rights group allege that Israel systematically suppresses Palestinian development in that part of West Bank, known as in Area C, while encouraging the growth of Israeli settlements, deemed illegal by most of the international community.

Last month, Israel issued stop-work orders in six of the 16 herders' communities, saying the panels and turbines were installed without permits. Such orders often precede demolition orders.

On Wednesday, Tsafrir Cohen of medico international said demolition orders have since been issued for four of the communities, clearing the way for demolition any time after March 5.

He said the orders target projects supported by the German and New Zealand governments, as well as medico international and a Swiss aid group.

Israeli officials had no immediate comment.

The German government has expressed concern about Israel's targeting of the installations and has asked for clarifications. Israel says it is willing to cooperate with foreign donors, but that they have to seek permits for their projects.

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Associated Press writer Dalia Nammari in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed reporting.