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West Bank: Palestinian Authority forces attack journalists covering Nizar Banat protests

Journalists from the Palestine Journalists Syndicate stood outside the UN office in Ramallah on Monday and called on it to guarantee their protection
Plainclothed Palestinian Authority officers attempt to arrest a man during protests in Ramallah against the PA on Saturday (AFP)

Palestinian riot police and plainclothed officers attacked journalists and human rights workers over the weekend as protests against the Palestinian Authority (PA) continue to grow across the West Bank.

Last Thursday, Nizar Banat, a prominent critic of the PA, died after officers broke into his home and began beating him, according to his family. 

Thousands flooded the streets of Ramallah to condemn Banat's death, which led to a violent crackdown against the protest, during which officers fired tear gas and beat unarmed civilians in a bid to disperse the crowd. 

Who was Nizar Banat, the outspoken critic who died in Palestinian Authority custody?
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On Sunday, hundreds of Palestinians in Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron marched for a fourth day to demand justice for Banat and called for PA President Mahmoud Abbas to resign.

Counter-protests were organised in support of Abbas, blasting patriotic songs on loudspeakers and waving flags of Fatah, Abbas' ruling party which dominates the PA.

Eyewitnesses told Middle East Eye that plainclothed security officers assaulted protesters and prevented media from carrying out their work by confiscating phones, damaging cameras and attacking journalists.

Fights ensued between some protesters and officers.

While covering the protests, journalists, including MEE reporter Shatha Hammad, suffered injuries.

Hammad, an award-winning journalist based in Ramallah, was hit directly in the face with a gas canister on Saturday night. 

“It was deliberate,” Hammad said.

“I was standing with all the journalists in the designated area. They targeted me directly. It was obvious that we were all journalists.” 

Fearing further attacks, journalists from the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate gathered outside the UN office in Ramallah on Monday to demand protection.

Violent suppression

Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq also condemned the violent suppression and attacks on peaceful protestors on Saturday, which took place in Ramallah and Bethlehem. 

The rights group said uniformed and non-uniformed officers struck protesters with "batons and rocks", which resulted in head injuries, with some officers dragging protesters to the ground. 

"Security forces in uniform extensively fired tear gas canisters in the city centre [of Ramallah], where protesters and bystanders were present, including children, women and the elderly," Al-Haq said in a statement.

"The Al-Haq team also documented the attack on journalists who were covering the events of the protest, as they were forced to leave the area, and had their equipment confiscated… security forces directly attacked at least five journalists in civilian attire."

It added that workers from the rights group had faced attacks, with some having their phones confiscated by PA "security forces in civilian attire, who introduced and identified themselves as officers of the Palestinian General Intelligence". 

Images posted online from Bethlehem also showed security officers violently clamping down on peaceful protests, including young children, in Bethlehem on Sunday. 

Yumna Patel, a former MEE contributor and Palestine correspondent for US-based website Mondoweiss, said she was attacked alongside her colleagues by the PA despite wearing vests that identified them as journalists. 

Palestinian journalists have also vowed to boycott PA press briefings and cut their press cards in half to protest against the continued attacks against reporters covering the demonstrations. 

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