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Press watchdog protests after police assault AP photographer in East Jerusalem

Mahmoud Illean says he identified himself as a journalist, but officers still pushed him to the ground, punched him repeatedly; FPA says he is hospitalized with head injuries

AP photographer Mahmoud Illean reacts after being attacked by Israeli security forces during the coverage of a demonstration in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, on December 17, 2021. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP)
AP photographer Mahmoud Illean reacts after being attacked by Israeli security forces during the coverage of a demonstration in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, on December 17, 2021. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP)

Israel’s Foreign Press Association issued a protest on Friday after an Associated Press photographer was hospitalized with head injuries after being assaulted by Border Police troops while covering a Friday demonstration in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Mahmoud Illean said that police had tossed stun grenades toward him and then physically attacked him without any provocation, some 15 minutes after the protest had ended, the FPA said in a statement.

Illean said he repeatedly identified himself as a journalist but to no avail.

Video from the scene showed officers surrounding the photographer before one pushes him to the ground and begins to punch him a number of times.

According to the FPA, Illean sustained injuries to his head and was taken to a hospital.

“The Foreign Press Association strongly condemns this behavior, which raises serious questions about the discipline and professionalism of the officers,” the organization said, adding that “this is the latest in a string of unprovoked attacks in recent years by border police on journalists working for international media.”

A spokesperson for Israel Police told the Times of Israel that the incident will be investigated by the “relevant authorities,” without elaborating further.

Formed in 1957 by a group of journalists, the FPA is a nonprofit organization that aims to assist foreign reporters in covering news from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Gaza. It says that its mandate is “to clarify bureaucratic problems and to protect our interests.”

Earlier on Friday, police said dozens of people were rioting and hurling chairs at officers at the scene. A cop was lightly hurt after being hit in the head with one of the chairs and was taken to receive medical care.

Police said they arrested two suspects, one for throwing the chair that hit the policeman and another for making threats.

Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood that is a 10-minute train ride away from Jerusalem’s city center, has emerged as a symbolic flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Over the past few years, a handful of Jewish nationalists have moved into the mostly Palestinian neighborhood, mostly through complex eviction cases.

Tensions in the neighborhood have risen in recent months due to long-simmering court battles over dozens of homes in the neighborhood in which Palestinian families have lived for decades, but which Jewish groups claim legally belong to them.

Many Palestinians and their supporters see that conflict as part of a larger effort by Israel to expunge their presence from the contested capital. The dispute — along with clashes at the Temple Mount — played a role in the Hamas terror group’s decision to fire a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem in May, sparking a brutal 11-day conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Border Police troops stand guard during a demonstration in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, on December 17, 2021. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

On Thursday police said prosecutors plan to indict a 14-year-old Palestinian girl who allegedly stabbed a Jewish woman in Sheikh Jarrah last week.

According to police, the girl planned the morning of the attack to carry out the stabbing, and followed her target — 26-year-old Moriah Cohen — for several minutes before stabbing her in the back in the neighborhood, where they both live.

Cohen — who was with her children at the time of the attack — was treated at the hospital and released the same day.

The past few weeks have seen a rise in Palestinian terror attacks, with four taking place in Jerusalem alone.

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