Six West Bank cities declared off-limits to press

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Press freedom crisis worsens in the occupied territories

New York, April 4, 2002— Israeli forces continue to restrict the movements of journalists attempting to cover events in the West Bank.

Since Friday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have declared at least six West Bank towns “closed military areas” and therefore off-limits to the press. The six towns are Ramallah, Qalqiliya, Jenin, Tulkarem, Nablus, and Bethlehem.

In Bethlehem, journalists told CPJ that access to the town’s center remained extremely limited and that the IDF continues to block journalists from approaching the Church of the Nativity, where some 200 Palestinians, among them several armed militants, have taken refuge.

As a result, reporters have been unable to confirm Palestinian assertions—and Israeli denials—that IDF troops opened fire on the church.

Today, IDF forces turned back a large group of journalists attempting to access the area near the church. [View BBC video footage of the incident ]

In Ramallah, journalists told CPJ that their movements also remained restricted despite a lull in fighting. Citing fears of arrest, expulsion, and physical harm, many have chosen to stay inside their hotels.

During the last week, IDF forces have opened fire on, or in the direction of, several journalists attempting to cover events in the West Bank.

Shooting journalists is unacceptable and cannot be justified under any circumstances,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We once again urge the Israeli government to lift its unacceptable restrictions on press coverage of events in the West Bank.”