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Friday, January 02, 2004

Anti-fence protest clashes

JPost: About 15 people, including two foreign peace activists, were wounded Thursday in the third anti-fence demonstration in as many days in the West Bank village of Budrus, near Modi'in.

Hours later Swedish Green Party parliamentarian Gustav Fridolin, 20, arrested during Wednesday's protest, was freed and at press time was to be escorted onto a flight to Stockholm by Swedish Embassy officials.

Email: gustav.fridolin@riksdagen.se

Fridolin was arrested when the protest devolved into stone throwing and scuffles between border policemen and demonstrators. Like the others arrested, four Israelis and four foreigners, Fridolin was taken in to custody for being in a closed military zone. Some 30 protesters and a border policeman were injured.

Fridolin had said that the arresting soldiers had "manhandled" him.

On Thursday, about 400 Palestinians, Israelis, and foreigners marched through the Christian Arab village to protest against both the injury of several Palestinians and foreigners in clashes on Wednesday and Fridolin's arrest.

Those hurt in the skirmish suffered light injuries, mostly from rubber-coated bullets and tear-gas inhalation.

The foreigners and Palestinians from neighboring villages gathered in Budrus to rally against the security fence, which is to run along the western edge of the village, cutting some farmers off from their land. Budrus has become the hub of anti-fence activity over the past few days, following the breaking of ground for fence construction a few hundred meters from the village.

Israeli peace activists said that, after the march, which took more than 100 protesters through the center of the village to a hill near the fence site, youths began throwing stones at soldiers. A volley of tear gas and rubber-coated bullets followed in response.

The IDF then slapped a curfew on the village and went house to house searching for the stone-throwers. Five Palestinians were arrested.

While the Palestinians maintain that Israel is stealing their land by building the fence, Israel believes that it is critical for its security – especially in a place like Budrus, just eight kilometers from Ben–Gurion Airport.

Police are increasingly concerned at the involvement of foreign nationals in the protests. When several of them were arrested earlier this week, the International Solidarity Movement sent an e-mail to its supporters calling on them to bombard the Ariel police station, where the foreigners were held, with telephone calls. According to one of the officers on duty, calls came from "all over the world, from Houston, Texas, to Ireland to Germany."

Police sources say that groups like ISM are far more organized than they pretend.

According to one source, they are also much more numerous than previously believed, with hundreds of activists from several international organizations living or touring in the West Bank. The source added that ISM activists are also taught techniques that will help them smuggle themselves in and out of the territories. They are also briefed on ways to cope with interrogation if arrested.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Tova Ellinson said Fridolin had waived the usual three-day grace period to allow deportees an opportunity to appeal and would leave voluntarily on Thursday evening. The other three foreigners – Swede Fredrik Batzler and Americans Katherine Rafael and Kimberly Gray – remain in custody.