- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

Journalists in Israel and the West Bank have been forced to hand over videotapes, barred from sensitive areas and even come under machine-gun fire, a media watchdog group said.
"It is an extremely difficult situation for journalists over there now," said Joel Campagna, a spokesman for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The group, which describes itself as an independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom, has documented cases of Israeli and Palestinian abuses against the media and protested in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Mr. Campagna said the situation for journalists has deteriorated so rapidly that his group cannot verify all of the incidents involving journalists in the Middle East.
In one incident, the group said, "NBC Nightly News" correspondent Dana Lewis and his two-person crew came under Israeli fire in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
The crew of Orla Guerin, a reporter for the British Broadcasting Corp., was shot at while covering protesters on the streets of Bethlehem, the group said.
In other documented incidents in Bethlehem, the car of a Reuters photographer, marked as a press vehicle, was fired upon and Palestinian militants confiscated Palestine TV footage of a suspected collaborator being shot in a parking lot.
Journalists from the Associated Press and Reuters news agency had also been threatened, the report said.
Mr. Campagna said there are also reports of local television stations in Ramallah being shut down and journalists being unable to enter Nablus, the largest city on the West Bank, where the Israeli forces are locked in a fierce clash with Palestinian fighters.
Mark Regev, an Israeli Embassy spokesman in Washington, defended the Israeli forces' actions toward journalists.
"We are talking about an area where there is fighting going on. This is done constantly in war situations. American and British forces have done it, quite recently in fact. It is totally within precedent to close the area off to the press," Mr. Regev said.
A reporter on the ground in Bethlehem said that in at least one incident journalists have come under a direct attack.
Hamji Farraj, a producer for the Palestinian Shepherd TV in Bethlehem, told The Washington Times he was talking on the phone with a Palestinian journalist working from a media center in a municipal building when Israeli forces detonated explosives, breaking down the center's metal door and detaining the journalists inside.
Media 19, a Norwegian free-speech advocacy group, confirmed the report.
A spokesman for the group said there were at least six journalists working in the center at the time.
It is believed the journalists were taken into custody. Media 19 could not confirm Mr. Farraj's claim that there were some foreign journalists in the center at the time.
"We tell our correspondents that if the story is too dangerous, then they have our support, security comes first," said "NBC Nightly News" spokesman Barbara Levin. However, she added, "It's an important story and the press should have full access."


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