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IDF Closes Palestine Press Service; High Court Refuses to Lift Press Ban

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The Israel Defense Force ordered the East Jerusalem-based Palestine Press Service closed for six months Wednesday, claiming that the news agency was disseminating hostile reports to the foreign press corps in Israel.

The move came less than a week after the IDF shut down the Rakah Communist Party daily Al-Ittihad, the only Arabic newspaper published in Israel outside East Jerusalem.

Israel’s Supreme Court, meanwhile, rejected a petition by the Foreign Press Association here to lift the IDF’s virtual ban on media coverage of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. On Monday, the army closed the territories to Journalists, except under tightly controlled conditions.

Although the three-judge panel refused the association’s request for a temporary injunction to lift the IDF ban, it did not reject the appeal in principle and gave the military authorities 30 days to show cause why such a measure was necessary.

The administrative order closing the Palestine Press Service was issued by Maj. Gen. Amram Mitzna, commander of the central sector, who claimed that the agency was a propaganda organ of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The order was handed to Ibrahim Karin, a press service official, who was summoned to Jerusalem police headquarters Wednesday morning. Karin, who is also editor of the East Jerusalem Arabic weekly El-Auda, emphatically denied that the news agency was in any way connected with the PLO.

He insisted that it functioned only as an information service for foreign correspondents and was supported solely by the subscriptions of its foreign clients. He noted that a similar closure order issued in 1984 was rescinded.

The Foreign Press Association appeal was initiated Tuesday by the group’s chairman in Israel, Robert Slater of Time magazine, and supported by the Israel Journalists Association.

EDITORS COMMITTEE PROTESTS

The Israel Editors Committee issued a strong statement Wednesday denouncing the IDF’s actions as a violation of freedom of the press and the public’s right to know what is taking place in the territories.

On Monday night, the IDF sealed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip for three days, in anticipation of an escalation of violence Wednesday, when Palestinians observed Land Day.

Although the IDF said the closure of the territories would be lifted early Friday morning, there were indications from Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, IDF Chief of Staff Dan Shomron and other military authorities Tuesday that it might be extended if conditions warranted.

Slater and other journalists here have expressed concern that this may well be the case.

In an attempt to allow some media coverage, the army has organized three specialized media pools, which have been allowed into the territories by special permit and only under escort by IDF officers.

The Editors Committee charged that these measures create a false impression and would further damage Israel’s image abroad. Amnesty International, the London-based human rights agency, expressed concern that restricted press access into the territories might be intended to conceal possible human rights violations.

It called on the Israeli authorities to make sure Palestinian rights were respected during the press ban. Amnesty also said it would continue to press for an independent judicial inquiry into Arab charges that there have been extensive human rights violations since the Palestinian uprising began Dec. 9.

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