Journalists’ groups have united in their condemnation of the Israeli authorities for failing to protect press freedom in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
Protests from two organisations, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Sans Frontieres, came after two reporters were wounded and a BBC crew came under fire.
The CPJ expressed its “alarm” at the “mounting press freedom crisis” developing in the Middle East as Israel’s offensive against West Bank towns gathered pace.
“Barring journalists from conflict areas constitutes censorship,” said Ann Cooper, the executive director of the organisation.
“Although Ramallah is indeed a dangerous place, journalists are there because they have a duty to cover this important story.
“We are deeply disturbed by Israel’s evident desire to prevent journalists from witnessing its current activities on the West Bank,” Ms Cooper added.
“CPJ calls on all parties to the conflict to permit media access to conflict areas and to fulfil their responsibility to safeguard journalists in the field.”
Meanwhile, Reporters Sans Frontieres has added its voice to the fray, with its general secretary, Robert Menard, calling for an immediate lifting of the ban on journalists.
“Allowing the Israeli occupation of Ramallah to take place without media witnesses is to foment rumours and disinformation,” said Mr Menard.
Since Friday the Israeli government has barred journalists from entering the city of Ramallah, which has been under siege by its forces.
And concern has been growing among news organisations and press freedom groups in the wake of the wounding of Anthony Shadid, a Washington-based reporter for the Boston Globe on assignment in Ramallah.
Shadid was shot in the shoulder despite wearing a flak jacket that clearly marked him out as a member of the press, according to reports.
It is not yet clear who shot Shadid, who is still recovering in a West Bank hospital, although the Israeli army has promised to investigate.
In an earlier incident a Palestinian cameraman working for an Egyptian based TV company, Carlos Handal, was shot in the mouth and wounded.
The Israeli government press office has announced that no “foreign citizens (including members of the media) are allowed to be in the closed zone,” and that “anyone found in the closed zone henceforth will be removed.
“Members of the media are advised that their presence in the closed zone is at their own risk.”
Meanwhile, journalists from a number of organisations - including the Guardian - have protested about the lack of freedom of movement for journalists.
The BBC yesterday protested to Israel after its correspondent Orla Guerin was pinned down by Israeli gunfire.
Peace activists have also come under fire while mounting protests against the Israeli army’s activity in the so-called “closed military zone”.
On Saturday Israeli forces barred reporters from the French television station France 2 from entering Ramallah.
One France 2 reporter told the Committee to Protect Journalists that soldiers threatened them, hurled a bottle, and fired a shot in their direction.