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News Release

For Immediate Release
Vancouver, March 6, 2003

Old city of Nablus under seige in Occupied Palestine

ISM-Vancouver activists document the Israeli Occupation Army terrorising of civilian population

NABLUS – In the early hours of March 6, 2003, hundreds of Israeli troops reoccupied the old city of Nablus using tanks, armoured personnel carriers (APCs), and tactics of inhuman brutality report ISM-Vancouver’s Carel and Gordon.

“In less than 48 hours since arriving in Nablus, we have seen Israeli soldiers kidnap and beat civilians and medical personnel, as well as the deliberate destruction of personal property including blasting large holes in walls between houses and the gutting of entire homes,” said Gordon.

There is no military resistance in the city reports Carel, the only attacks on the soldiers have been from children throwing stones. “The operation seems designed to terrorise and traumatise the entire civilian population of Nablus.”

In the most shocking incident, Israeli soldiers kidnapped five Palestinian medical volunteers wearing clearly marked uniforms from the Palestinian Red Crescent (Cross) and Union of Health Care Committees (UHCC) and forced them to stand for an hour in a line stretching across a narrow street leading from Arayoun Square. “One soldier used them as a human shield as he sighted his automatic weapon down the street between their heads,” Gordon stated.

The Israeli soldier also kicked the medical volunteers, hit them with his rifle butt and verbally abused them. One of the youngest volunteers was singled out and interrogated at gunpoint. The soldier ripped the boy’s knapsack off his shoulders, tore it open and dumped the contents on to the street. “The obvious intent was to humiliate and intimidate Palestinian medical workers, and the civilian population in general,” explained Gordon.

In another corner of Arayoun Square, a platoon of 25 Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) was searching several houses. “When we arrived, the soldiers had ten men lined-up against a wall in plastic handcuffs,” said Carel, “They forced them to stand outside for five hours, including one man who required crutches.”

ISM volunteers and Palestinian medical volunteers tried to negotiate with the IOF to release the man on crutches, to allow the men to sit down or to have food. The soldiers refused these requests.

“We watched and photographed as the soldiers forced a family from another home, including two women, a baby, a toddler, and an elderly man who had to be helped out the door,” reported Gordon. “They all had to stand outside against a wall in a bitterly cold wind.” Several explosions and loud crashes were audible as the soldiers searched the house.

Palestinian paramedics called to the scene explained to the IOF soldiers that the elderly man was being treated for a serious heart condition. ISM volunteers and the paramedics attempted to negotiate with the soldiers to let the sick man go to the hospital and to let the women and infants go to a neighbour’s house to get out of the cold. The soldiers refused to negotiate.

The Israeli soldiers then took the father of the children aside to interrogate him out of the view of ISM internationals and Palestinian medical staff – but in full view of his family who were extremely traumatised. “We heard the soldiers yelling at him, some kicks and thuds and suddenly the man was on the ground screaming almost uncontrollably,” Carel recalled.

The soldiers finally allowed the man to be attended by a Red Crescent doctor, who administered a sedative and treated his wounds. “She later told us the man had been ‘beaten very badly’ by the soldiers and had suffered a seizure,” said Gordon. Negotiations continued but the soldiers would not allow the man they had beaten, nor his father with the heart condition, to be taken to hospital.

After an hour of negotiations and several phone calls to human rights groups and IOF District Command Office, the soldiers allowed the entire family to return to their ransacked house. When the soldiers left the area two hours later, Palestinian medical personnel were able to attend to the sick men properly. The ten handcuffed men have been taken into detention.

Gordon and Carel are available for interview by email. Their email is gordon@ism-vancouver.org. Digital photos are available on request.

Nablus Seige Backgrounder
-----------------------------------------------

Nablus is the commercial hub and largest city in the Occupied West Bank with a population of more than 200,000. The ongoing military operation began more than a week ago when Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) started occupying, searching and ransacking homes in the old city of Nablus.

Troops enter a house by force, confine all the family members into one room or force them onto the street while they “search” the house, destroying much of the contents in the process. The Israeli soldiers claim to be searching for specific wanted men but have mostly resorted to mass arrests of all adult males in a household, presumably to cover-up their inability to find any wanted men.

More than one hundred houses have been ransacked or completely demolished in the last ten days. “We’ve seen bullet holes shot into fridges, smashed television sets and furniture, and trampled family photos, which are especially heartbreaking,” Carel said.

The soldiers “occupy” the house for hours or even days while the family is kept hostage in one room, often with no food or water. “ISM activists have been working very hard to identify the occupied houses and to get food, medicine and water to the kidnapped families,” Gordon noted.

When the soldiers move to the next house they often blast a large hole through the connecting wall or blow the front door off the hinges. The soldiers routinely won’t check if they can enter a house without force, or even if there is a house next door. “We saw a hole 1.5 metres in diameter blown into a children's bedroom wall and another through the wall of St. Dimitrios Orthodox Church,” said Gordon.

“When we arrived in Nablus on Tuesday night, only an occupation by ISM volunteers was preventing the IOF from blasting a hole through the wall of the Red Crescent Medical Clinic in the old city,” Carel stated. After eight tense hours of negotiations and intervention by Israeli human rights groups, the IOF finally agreed to search the clinic using the front door, which is kept open 24 hours a day. One activist jokingly called it ISM’s “Use the Door” campaign.

On March 5, 2003 the IOF did withdraw from Nablus for one day and a semblance of normal life returned to the once vibrant streets of the old city. Coincidentally, a delegation from the European Union arrived the same day to investigate reports of the military operation from European ISM activists. The respite was sweet but short, as the IOF returned with greater numbers and even more aggressive tactics the next morning.

-30-

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Reem, Coordinator of ISM-Vancouver by email at
info@ism-vancouver.org
.


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