Jewish settlers disrupt Palestinian olive harvest

Sat Oct 18, 2008 7:23am EDT

HEBRON, West Bank Oct 18 (Reuters) - Jewish settlers punched and kicked two news photographers and a British woman helping Palestinians pick olives in a West Bank town on Saturday and Israeli police responded by stopping the harvest.

The scuffle in the town of Hebron was the latest of a series of efforts by settlers living in the occupied land to disrupt an annual harvest critical to many Palestinians' livelihoods.

Witnesses and Reuters television footage showed four Jewish settlers headed into a grove next to a Jewish enclave where a few dozen Israeli, Palestinian and foreign peace activists were helping to pick olives.

The settlers punched and kicked Abed Hashlamoun, a photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA), leaving a bloody scratch beneath one eye. They similarly assaulted his brother, Reuters photographer Nayef Hashlamoun, who suffered no injuries.

Janet Benvie, a British activist with Christian Peacemaker Teams, sustained a scratch on her lip after a scuffle with a settler who had grabbed a camera.

"When I went to get the camera one of the settlers punched me in the face," Benvie told Reuters television.

Israeli soldiers arrived at the scene to break up the scuffle, television footage showed. They also permitted the settlers to leave the scene, Benvie said.

Israeli security declared the area a closed military zone, Danny Poleg, a spokesman for Israeli police in the West Bank said, effectively stopping the harvest.

Poleg said settlers and Palestinians had thrown stones at each other at the site.

Issa Amro, a Palestinian who works for the Israeli human rights group B'tselem, denied any stones were thrown and said police arrived at the scene after the scuffle had ended.

Poleg said no settlers had been arrested because no formal complaint had been lodged.

Three Israelis at the olive grove to help Palestinians with the harvest were later held for questioning after they refused police orders to leave the area, Poleg said. (Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Charles Dick)



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