Hebron Settlers Assault Palestinians, Activists Harvesting Olives

Settlers call on police to prevent 'similar provocations' by left-wing activists and anarchists.

Witnesses and Reuters crew on Saturday said that Israeli settlers clashed with Palestinians and others helping them pick olives in the West Bank town of Hebron.

The settlers reportedly punched and kicked two news photographers and a British woman helping Palestinians pick olives.

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

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

Israel Defense Forces 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 Israel Police said.

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.

Later on Saturday, Hebron settlers urged the police to prevent "provocations" by left-wing activists and anarchists.

The IDF faulted the Palestinians and their supporters for going out to harvest without coordinating with military officials first.

"The Palestinians are aware that there must be coordination before harvesting," the military said. "There was no coordination before they arrived ... something that constitutes a provocation."

"As for the attack on the photographer, the media must understand that they entered a closed military zone and that they undertake risks when they do so," it said.

"Police have launched an investigation into the actions of the Palestinians and their supporters and the local residents who attacked them," it added.