Israeli troops raided two Palestinian television stations in the West Bank city of Ramallah overnight, seizing computers and broadcasting equipment, employees told AFP on Wednesday.
The Israeli military confirmed the raids, saying the stations targeted had been broadcasting illegally, a charge rejected by the Palestinian telecommunications minister.
The two stations affected were Watan Television, a local private station, and Quds Educational Television, affiliated with the Palestinian Al-Quds University.
“They came at 2:00 am (0000 GMT) and took around 30 computers and all the transmitters. The station is totally shut down,” Watan’s editor in chief, Ali Daraghmeh, told AFP.
“One of our guards tried to stop the army, but they told him they had official orders to close the station.”
Haroun Abu Arra, director of Quds Educational TV, said troops raided his station shortly afterwards.
“At 3:00 am (0100 GMT), the Israeli army entered the television station’s office and took all the transmitters, and the station is now unable to broadcast,” he said.
Moammer Orabi, Watan’s director general, said there were no warnings before the raid took place.
“It was a surprise. We still don’t know why they confiscated the equipment and shut down the station, even though we work in areas belonging to the Palestinian Authority and we have a licence from them,” he said.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said the raids came after “multiple requests” from the Israeli communications ministry to the two stations to halt operations.
“IDF (Israel Defence Forces) soldiers accompanied an operation of the ministry of communications to close two pirate television station in Ramallah,” she said.
“This station significantly interrupts other legal broadcasting stations and interferes with aircraft communications.”
No one at the communications ministry was immediately available for comment.
But Palestinian telecommunications minister Mashour Abu Daqqa angrily rejected the claims, saying Israel had failed to make any official complaint through the proper channels to the Palestinian Authority.
“They are liars,” Abu Daqqa told AFP. “If there is any problem, we have an Israel-Palestinian coordination committee and we discuss any problems regarding frequencies all the time.
“We didn’t receive anything through this committee and we believe that the Israeli army wants to change realities on the ground, ignoring all the committees formed.”
Daqqa said the stations were both registered with the International Broadcasting Union and broadcast on legal frequencies.
They are both based in Ramallah, which lies within a part of the West Bank designated as under full Palestinian civil and security control. Israel carries out frequent raids in the area nonetheless.
The raids were condemned by Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, who visited Watan’s offices after the raid, describing it as “a new and very dangerous Israeli escalation against the Palestinian Authority.”
Journalists said they would hold a demonstration in Ramallah’s central square later on Wednesday to protest against the raid.