2014 was the deadliest ever for journalists working in the Palestinian territories, a Gaza-based watchdog said on Thursday, months after a bloody war in the besieged enclave claimed the lives of more than 2,310 Gazans.
Meanwhile, a UN senior official on Thursday called on Israel to “immediately” unlock millions of dollars in taxes owed to the Palestinian Authority (PA) that were withheld after it decided to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the late December.
“2014 was a black year for freedom of the press in Palestine… and it was the worst and bloodiest,” the Gaza Center for Press Freedom said in its annual report.
The report accused Israel of committing 295 separate “violations of press freedom” across the occupied Palestinian territories.
These resulted in the deaths of 17 journalists during the deadly war in July and August, including that of an Italian photographer working for Associated Press.
The report revealed Israel arrested or detained an unspecified number of journalists, denied freedom of movement to local media workers wanting to leave the blockaded Gaza Strip, and partially or completely destroyed 19 buildings housing editorial operations during its bombardment of the territory during the conflict.
According to the Gaza Center for Press Freedom, the PA also committed 82 violations of press freedom, including arresting or summoning 28 journalists, and injuring or assaulting 26 more.
For 51 days this summer, Israel pounded the Gaza Strip — by air, land and sea — with the stated aim of ending rocket fire from the coastal enclave.
According to estimates based on preliminary information, as many as 96,000 Palestinian homes were damaged or destroyed during the days of hostilities, a higher figure than was previously thought.
Withheld tax revenues
On Thursday, UN Assistant Secretary-General Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen called on Israel to resume the transfer of $127 million tax revenues that were withheld after the PA decided to join the ICC.
He told the Security Council that the freeze of tax funds imposed on January 3 was in violation of the Oslo agreements between Israel and the PA.
The council’s monthly meeting on the Middle East was the first on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the failure of a Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations Security Council in December.
On Thursday’s meeting, chief Palestinian delegate Riyad Mansour called the withholding of Palestinian tax revenues a “blatant act of reprisal and theft of Palestinian funds” and condemned Israel’s “rabid settlement colonization.”
The Israeli side has also condemned Palestinian moves, with Ambassador Ron Prosor accusing Palestinians of “running away from negotiations” and obstructing the peace process.
The United States and the European Union have criticized Israel’s retaliatory move in response to the Palestinian application to join the ICC, which could investigate war crimes complaints against Israel.
Meanwhile, Israel said on Thursday that Sweden’s foreign minister was not welcome for an official visit in the country, with relations strained over Stockholm’s recognition of Palestine.
The minister, Margot Wallstroem, last week postponed a trip to Israel indefinitely, with Israeli media reports suggesting that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman did not want to meet her.
Sweden’s decision in October to recognize the state of Palestine — the first major EU nation to do so — infuriated Israel, which temporarily recalled its ambassador to Stockholm.
“Do not wait to travel to Israel until the Swedish foreign minister comes here, because that could take a long time,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told public broadcaster Swedish Radio.
“The Swedish foreign minister would not have been given any official meetings in Israel if she had traveled here. What Sweden did was an utterly unfriendly action,” Nahshon added.
Wallstroem considered making the trip without official meetings but would have been without a security detail during the commemoration of Swedish Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg and other events, the radio said, without giving sources.
“It is basically an insult,” Per Joensson, an editor with the Swedish Institute for International Affairs, told AFP.
“That is not a way to treat a sovereign foreign minister, unless you really want to punish her.”
Despite the furore, Sweden said Wallstroem would visit Israel after its March 17 legislative elections.
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)