Award-winning Palestinian reporter 'abused' by Israeli security officers

Donald Macintyre
Wednesday 02 July 2008 00:00
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The Dutch Foreign Minister, Maxime Verhagen, has officially complained to Israel after accusations by an award-winning Palestinian journalist from Gaza that he was abused during almost four hours of detention at the border with Jordan.

Mohammed Omer, 24, says that he was manhandled and strip-searched and fainted during interrogation when he returned from a Dutch government-facilitated trip to London to collect a prestigious British journalism award, the Martha Gellhorn Prize.

Mr Omer, who is now in hospital in the southern Gaza town of Khan Yunis with suspected cracked ribs after the incident on Thursday last week, was a joint winner of the prize for his reporting from the Strip.

Mr Omer said yesterday that he was ordered to strip down to his underwear and when he protested at being forced to remove his underpants a security officer "snatched" them off him. He said he later fainted and awoke to find a security official applying pressure to his upper chest. He said he vomited several times and two officers later dragged him by his legs to another location. His requests to contact the Dutch escort were rejected, he said.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry in The Hague said yesterday that Mr Verhagen had personally asked for clarification, through the Israeli ambassador in the Netherlands. The ministry confirmed that a Dutch embassy official who had been waiting for Mr Omer on the Israeli side of the border was given no information until he was telephoned by Mr Omer from a hospital in Jericho.

Reuters quoted an unnamed Israeli security official yesterday as denying that Mr Omer had been mistreated. But Aryeh Mekel, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said that while it was still awaiting a written complaint from the Netherlands it had already asked the security services for an explanation of what happened. He said that Israel had facilitated Mr Omer's transfer from Jericho to Gaza.

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