New York, April 2, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today reiterated its alarm at mounting press restrictions and attacks on reporters in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

In a letter sent today to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, CPJ protested the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) declaration that the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Qalqiliya are “closed military areas” and therefore off-limits to the press. [Read CPJ’s letter to Prime Minister Sharon]

The West Bank city of Ramallah was declared off-limits to the press on Friday. While the ban in Ramallah has been sporadically enforced, several journalists have been prevented from entering the city or from moving freely within the city.

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Read CPJ’s letter to Prime Minister Sharon

In the letter, CPJ also strongly protested ongoing incidents in which IDF forces have opened fire on, or in the direction of, journalists attempting to cover events in the West Bank. “These incidents increasingly appear as attempts by the IDF to intimidate the press from covering the IDF’s widening military campaign in the territories,” the letter said.

In a shocking incident yesterday, NBC correspondent Dana Lewis and his two-person camera crew came under IDF fire in Ramallah at dusk while driving in an armored car that was clearly identified as a press vehicle. After an initial burst of gunfire hit the car, a lone IDF soldier opened fire with a second burst from a range of about 50 to 100 feet (15 to 30 meters).

The journalists then stopped the car, turned on an interior light to make themselves visible, and placed their hands on the windshield. After 15 to 20 seconds, the soldier fired a third burst, hitting the windshield. The NBC crew escaped by driving away in reverse.
In other recent developments:

  • On April 1, BBC reporter Orla Guerin and her television crew came under Israeli fire while covering peaceful protesters walking through the streets of Bethlehem. Video footage of the incident shows the camera panning on the demonstrators and then focusing on a tank, which then fires machine gun rounds at the camera. The crew took cover behind a car that was clearly marked press. No one was injured in the attack.
  • On April 2, Gamma agency photographer Atta Oweisat was detained by Israeli troops in Ramallah and held for nearly six hours. He and other journalists were ordered out of their car and forced to take off their flak jackets and put their personal possessions on the ground. The troops detained Oweisat when they found that his press card had expired. He was blindfolded and handcuffed during his detention.
  • In Bethlehem on April 2, an Israeli soldier fired one round toward the car of Reuters photographer Magnus Johansson, which was clearly identified as a press vehicle. Johansson heard soldiers shouting at him. When he got out of the car, he was ordered back in. The shot was fired as he attempted to drive away.
  • In Bethlehem on April 1, Palestinian militants threatened journalists working for The Associated Press, Reuters, and Palestine TV and forced them to hand over footage, shot the night before, of the body of an alleged Palestinian collaborator who had been shot in a parking lot.