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Upsurge in attacks, arrests of journalists; two released on bail

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has strongly protested against an increase in physical assaults against journalists on the West Bank, eight of whom have been attacked by forces controlled by President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, since 23 November 2007.

The worldwide press freedom organisation however welcomed the release on bail on 24 November of journalist Alaa Al-Titi and cameraman Ossayd Amarneh, of al-Aqsa television, who were arrested in Hebron, 30 kilometres south of Jerusalem on 5 November.

"Journalists in the Palestinian territories are facing a constantly deteriorating situation," the organisation said. "We call on the Palestinian authorities to ensure respect for the work of journalists covering the news in often dangerous conditions. The security forces should know how to distinguish them from demonstrators," it added.

Masked assailants kidnapped journalist Hafez Asakerah in Bethlehem on 23 November and released him two hours later. It is not known who they were. On the same day in Nablus, Palestinian Authority security forces arrested Moukhless Samara, a journalist with the daily "Palestine", which has been banned for the past three months. His family said he had been summoned for questioning for unknown reasons and was still being held.

Police assaulted or arrested several journalists on the fringes of a demonstration organised in Ramallah by the Islamic liberation party against the Middle East peace conference in Annapolis in the United States. They brutally beat the correspondent for al-Jazeera, Wael al-Shyoukhi, leaving him with a broken left arm. The director of local television station Watan, Moammar Orabi, was also assaulted. Both men needed hospital treatment.

Security forces also held for two hours photographer Abbas Moumni, of Agence France-Presse, a cameraman for the BBC, Nader Ghoul, a photographer working for the APA agency, Essam Riwawi, as well as the producer of Communication & Medias News, Rami Samarah.

The authorities released journalist Al-Titi and cameraman Amarneh, of Hamas-affiliated al-Aqsa television on 24 November, after almost three weeks in custody. They both had to pay bail equivalent to 900 Euros to be provisionally set free while waiting for the opening of their trial on so far unspecified charges.

The Palestinian Territories are listed by Reporters Without Borders in 158th place out of 169 on its world press freedom index published in October.

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