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Michael Holmes: Israelis greet media with stun grenades

CNN's Michael Holmes
CNN's Michael Holmes  

(CNN) -- Israeli troops on Friday fired stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets at a group of about two dozen journalists waiting for the arrival of U.S. Mideast envoy Anthony Zinni at the compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

CNN's Michael Holmes was one of the Israeli targets. He filed this report from Ramallah, on the West Bank.

HOLMES: We would liked to have brought you pictures of Zinni's arrival at his meeting with Arafat, but that was made impossible by the Israeli army. We went from our position here the mile or so to the compound, as we do often, very cautiously, very slowly. We got there -- a convoy of five armored media vehicles. Two army jeeps arrived, and there was a blue Mercedes behind that.

We understand Israeli military officials (were) inside, and within seconds of their arrival, stun grenades were thrown into the group of journalists there. There were some 20 to 25 of us there. The Israeli army jeeps accelerated toward us. We had at that point no idea of what it was they wanted us to do. A couple of people very close to those jeeps saw the soldiers motioning for us to leave, but the vast majority of us knew nothing until an orange stun grenade came flying out of the top of one of those jeeps into the middle of us.

There were probably six or seven, it was difficult to count, of these stun grenades going off. One landed under my foot, as I moved away, and went off. I could feel the concussion of it under my foot. Another one of our crew had one go off right next to her foot. A sort of chilling aspect was I heard a colleague yell to a cameraman, "Watch out, it's on your camera." He managed to get it off his camera, and had it gone off while resting on his camera, and I know you know that they are holding those on their shoulder, he would certainly have some hearing problems right now.

Once we got into our vehicle, to back up, you've got to remember there are five armored vehicles in a row. It's very difficult for everyone to get out in a hurry. We were the first car in that convey, and we started to back up as quickly as we could, which was slowly, obviously. We were rammed by the jeep, and then as we continued to back up, an Israeli soldier from very close range, perhaps 25 feet, fired a round at our windshield. It struck the windshield. It took a chip out of the armored glass.

We continued to back up, and once we got to the top of the road, everyone had managed to back up and turn around, we were then near the rear of the convoy. As we headed off, as we had been instructed to do, another Israeli soldier fired two rubber-coated steel bullets into the back window of our armored vehicle. There are two large cracks and a small hole not all the way through, thank goodness, but part of the way through.

Why this action was taken is unclear. There was no official warning given. We later gathered the media. We tried to leave the area as instructed, but our way was blocked on several routes. We then all gathered at another spot, and Israeli troops in an armored personnel carrier approached our group. They spoke to several members of the media, not us. They took press credentials, and in some cases, passports from some of the camera crews there, and press representatives. They then disappeared with those.

We spoke to a soldier. He told us it was a closed military area and to leave. We duly did. No further incident (happened) getting back here to our broadcast point. We do understand that an American network, however, was escorted from Ramallah. That's what we are told.

I think it was very clear that their intent was for us to leave. Initially, it was unclear what they wanted us to do. I mean, there were 25 of us there. One would assume that the media would cover the arrival of General Zinni to such a crucial meeting, given the tensions in the region. And we went there in numbers, so we didn't sneak up on anyone, as it were. There were a large number of us crammed into five armored vehicles getting there.

And when they arrived, and as I say, the two jeeps pulled up about 100 yards away initially. There was a blue Mercedes behind that. Then they roared up to us. The media had to scatter those at the very head to get out of the way of these jeeps. We initially then thought they were making room for this Mercedes to pull into the entranceway, which we were not in any way blocking. But the two jeeps stopped two abreast, the Mercedes behind them, and the next thing I knew was stun grenades going off all around us and inside our group. This wasn't something that was thrown to the side of us or behind us or anything like that. These were lobbed right into our group.




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