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Israeli forces close Palestinian media offices in West Bank raids

Palestinian Authority accuses Israel of 'blatant aggression and gross violation of all international laws' as eight companies targeted
Employee of Palmedia reads poster placed by Israeli troops on doors of office in West Bank city of Nablus (AFP)

Israeli security forces raided Palestinian media companies in the illegally occupied West Bank overnight, shutting down production facilities and closing offices in locations including Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron and Bethlehem.

Companies targeted by the raids included Palmedia, Ramsat and Trans Media, which the Israeli defence ministry accused of "incitement" and of providing production services to Hamas's al-Aqsa and al-Quds television channel.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the raids "in the strongest terms" and accused Israeli security forces of "blatant aggression and gross violation of all international laws".

The PA has conducted its own crackdown on journalists in the West Bank in recent months, with several arrested by Palestinian security forces, including a cameraman working for the al-Quds channel.

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At the time, Omar Nazzal, the head of the Palestinian Journalists’ Union, told Middle East Eye that there had been a big increase in the number of infringements of the rights of journalists since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met US President Donald Trump in June.

"In June, for the first time, the number of violations the PA committed against journalists was triple the number the Israelis committed.”

The PA also blocked 29 websites and introduced an "electronic crimes" law in July that set out harsh penalties for a series of vaguely worded offences on social media and resulted in the arrest of a number of journalists.

Footage of Israeli military vehicles and soldiers moving to shut down the Palmedia office in Ramallah was posted online by the al-Quds news network, which is not connected to the al-Quds television channel.

The overnight raids came hours after the Israeli government declared that it would not deal with an emerging Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas, the militant group that has controlled Gaza since 2007.

A Palestinian journalists' union official in the southern West Bank city of Hebron told the AFP news agency that the offices of three companies providing production services to Hamas television were closed and equipment and documents were seized.

They were identified as Palmedia, Ramsat and Trans Media, a satellite broadcasting facility where two members of staff were arrested, the union official said.

Palmedia and Trans Media are well-known, recently launched production companies that provide broadcasting services, facilities, camera crews and studios to various satellite channels and international media agencies such as the BBC, France 24, Al Jazeera and Russia Today among others.

MEE could not contact Palmedia and Trans Media for comment. 

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Yoav Mordechai, the head of Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) office, wrote on Facebook that eight Palestinian media and production companies had been raided because of their links to al-Aqsa and al-Quds.

"These two channels broadcast constant incitement against the state of Israel. It is no secret that these two channels inspired, several times, terrorists to go out and commit terrorist attacks against innocents."

A military spokeswoman told AFP that security forces "searched a number of media and production offices suspected of broadcasting inciting content, encouraging, celebrating and promoting violence and terrorism against Israelis".

"During the large-scale operation, media stations such as Ramsat and Transmedia were closed," she added.

"In addition, forces seized equipment and documents from media companies that provided services to al-Aqsa and al-Quds - TV channels that are illegal organisations," referring to Hamas TV stations.

An Israeli military notice posted on the door of one of the offices targeted overnight
She did not say how many offices were closed or give any details of the alleged incitement.

A military notice addressed to media workers and local residents posted on the office walls said that the premises were closed for six months.

The notice said: "The Israeli Defence Forces will not allow any party - who fight against it or others - to assist terrorism and the army will continue working against institutions who assist terrorism. The closure period is six months and whoever breaches this order will be arrested and investigated. To maintain your safety, stop assisting terrorism and incitement. This is how you save your livelihood and protect your families."

Tens of Palestinian media workers and activists protested in front of the UN office in Ramallah against Israel’s shutting down of the media production companies. “This closure… is part of Israel’s silencing of Palestinian and Arab media who report about the violations by soldiers against Palestinians,” said one Palestinian journalist.

Last week, rival Palestinian movements Fatah and Hamas signed a landmark unity deal aimed at ending a decade-long split.

Israel said on Tuesday it would not negotiate with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas unless it disarms, recognises the state of Israel and renounces violence.

The government statement also demanded that President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority "continue to act against Hamas terror infrastructures" in the West Bank.

Hamas has run the Gaza Strip for a decade, but also has a presence in the West Bank, where Abbas's Fatah is based.

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