Gaza war diary: Al Jazeera detained

Israel holds Al Jazeera crew for four hours for filming in closed military zone.


    Israeli soldiers have been massed near the boundary with Gaza for almost a week [AFP]

    Just before 8am, the sirens suddenly sound at our hotel in Ashkelon.

    Two loud droning noises followed by a voice in Hebrew then in English: "Will all guests please make their way to a secure place." Rockets from Gaza are on their way.

    Within seconds, there are two loud explosions. Ashkelon is the target. I'm told seven have landed in the city. There is some damage to one house and minor scratches to one resident. It's a reminder of how notoriously inaccurate these rockets are, and how they are indiscriminate in their targeting.

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    As a matter of curiosity I go to check out the secure room on my floor. It is essentially a windowless conference room with chairs arranged around makeshift tables and a steel ladder which leads to the floor above. It provides more than adequate protection because the chances of a direct strike are so small.

    Kissafim is a border crossing between Israel and Gaza. It's deserted. As we drive towards it, it's eerie just how quiet it is.

    As I stand looking into Gaza, the silence is broken by the call to Friday prayer carried in the wind. It's suddenly drowned out by three loud explosions to my right, somewhere in the distance. 

    As I try to find out what has been hit, another three echo around the area.  Suddenly the drone of aircraft is also noticeable as Israeli spotter aircraft do their job in the skies above me.

    I walk past the yellow permanent roadblocks and make my way to the boundary. It's marked by a fence which is possibly electrified and heavy concrete blocks.

    This is the very edge of Israel.

    Footage confiscated

    Our presence is suddenly the subject of attention from the Israeli army. Three vehicles surround us and ask what we're doing. We explain, and they insist we hand over the tapes. Our local producer tries to tell them we have nothing that shows the army, but we're told we're filming in a closed military zone and co-operation is not optional.


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    They take our camera. For four hours we are detained and no one can explain why.  I'm told we were in a closed military area. When I point out that we didn't film anything to do with the military, the soldier before me shrugs and says he must wait for his senior officer to decide how to progress.

    The police are called and eventually two officers appear. They are serious but friendly and insist things can be sorted out quickly. We're instructed to follow them to the police station at Afakim.

    There we're asked why we were in the area and lectured about our responsibilities to check which areas are open and which are restricted.

    Six hours in and we're told we have committed an offence; they are considering their options. We're questioned under caution and we answer honestly. The road to the boundary wasn't blocked and we passed police patrols who didn't turn us back.

    Our statements are taken before two soldiers from the Israeli army arrive to watch all we've filmed. It's less than 10 minutes of material, which shows Israel, Gaza and the barrier that divides the two.

    We're told the material shows something that is restricted and is to be confiscated.  We ask what it is that we've filmed that is so sensitive, but are given no answer.

    Our camera and documents are returned and we're allowed to go. We are told we must stay out of the closed military zone. I point out that journalists from all over the world are currently operating in the area under the eyes of police and army but, as far as I'm aware, the only ones detained have been Al Jazeera journalists.  They insist we have not been singled out.

    If anything, our encounter is an example of how nervous everyone is while talk circulates of an Israeli ground offensive into Gaza.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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