Israeli border police have released the Washington Post's bureau chief and his Palestinian colleague after briefly detaining them while they were conducting interviews near occupied East Jerusalem's Old City.

William Booth and the newspaper's West Bank correspondent, Sufian Taha, were taken to a police station and held for about 40 minutes before being released, the Foreign Press Association in Israel (FPA) said in a statement about their detention.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Emmanuel Nahshon, called it "a regrettable incident" and praised Booth as "an excellent journalist". The ministry would ask the police to clarify the incident, he said.

The FPA said their detention came in the context of "heavy-handed tactics" - including what it described as violent attacks by border police against foreign journalists and their Palestinian colleagues covering unrest in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. 

Booth and Taha, the FPA said, were interviewing Palestinian and Israeli residents at Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the two journalists were detained after a passer-by had complained to police that he saw several people apparently "inciting" Palestinian youths to violence.

"When the facts were clarified and no suspicion of criminal activity arose, the investigating officer released the detainees immediately," she said.

Ofir Gendleman, a spokesperson for right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, published a post on Twitter, saying that Israel doesn't "detain journalists. The press here is free". 

Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, pointed out that Palestinian journalist Mohammed al-Qeeq is presently hospitalised in severe condition as he is on hunger strike against being detained without charge as an administrative detainee for months. 

After the journalists were released on Tuesday, the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) also distanced itself from the incident. 

"Freedom of the press is a supreme value in the Israeli democracy,” GPO director Nitzan Chen said, according to The Times of Israel. "Israel is doing its utmost to enable the foreign press to work freely, without any pressure."

Ruth Eglash, a Jerusalem-based correspondent for the Washington Post, published a series of Twitter posts criticising the police for detaining her colleagues. 


Source: Al Jazeera and agencies