Israel suspends officer over assault of journalists

JERUSALEM - The Israeli military has suspended the officer in charge during an incident in the West Bank that saw soldiers assault two AFP journalists, take their equipment and destroy it, the army said.

"The officer in charge of the operations on the ground has been suspended from operational duty until further notice," Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said of the incident on Friday.

Lerner said the move was an immediate step "pending further disciplinary measures" against the officer or other soldiers and that investigations were continuing.

He added that the Israeli military considered it a "grave" incident. "Lessons from the incident will be learnt and disseminated within the (Israeli army)," Lerner told AFP late on Saturday.

The two AFP journalists, Italian Andrea Bernardi and Palestinian Abbas Momani, were covering clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers in Beit Furik near Nablus following a funeral when they were assaulted by soldiers.

Bernardi is a video journalist and Momani is a photographer.

The soldiers pointed their weapons at them and shoved them. Bernardi was thrown to the ground, with a knee pressed against his chest until he was able to show his press card.

They were identifiable as journalists not only by their equipment but also by their body armour clearly marked "Press". They had been previously authorised to enter the area.

The soldiers smashed a video camera and a stills camera, while also taking away another stills camera and a mobile phone.

The incident was filmed and posted online by a local production company.

On Friday evening, the army told AFP that it had identified those involved and that disciplinary measures would be taken. It also said it had recovered equipment.

Severely damaged equipment was returned to AFP on Saturday, though without the memory cards that had been inside.

AFP as well as the Foreign Press Association in Israel and the Palestinian Territories have strongly condemned the assault.