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Israeli soldier suspended for gun-butt attack

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An Israeli soldier is seen hitting an activist in footage posted on YouTube An Israeli soldier has been suspended after video footage showed him hitting a foreign pro-Palestinian activist in the face with his gun during a bicycle rally in the occupied West Bank, according to the Israeli military.

Footage of the incident posted on YouTube was picked up by Israeli television on Sunday, prompting condemnation from Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.

"Lieutenant-Colonel Shalom Eisner has been suspended until the conclusion of the inquiry which has been opened," a military spokesman said on Monday.

The assault took place on Saturday during a bicycle ride in the Jordan Valley near Jericho involving Palestinians and foreign activists.

The footage shows a soldier smashing a male demonstrator in the face with the butt of a rifle in an apparently unprovoked attack as soldiers confront protesters.

The demonstrator, reported to be a Danish national, falls to the ground and is then carried away by others at the scene.

"Such behaviour is not characteristic of the soldiers and commanders of the IDF (Israel Defence Forces)," Netanyahu said in a statement released on Sunday. "It has no place in the IDF and the State of Israel."

Benny Gantz, Israeli military's chief of staff, also condemned the attack which he said would be "thoroughly investigated and treated with the utmost severity".

The military described the incident as "very serious" and said it was looking into "the circumstances leading up to this incident as well as on its repercussions", a spokeswoman said.

Quoting a military source, Israel's Channel 10 television said the officer apparently lost his patience as he and his troops tried to turn away cyclists shouting anti-Israeli slogans and waving Palestinian flags from an area defined as a closed military zone.

'Flytilla' activists barred

In another development, Israel has barred nearly 80 foreign activists from flying into the country on grounds they were linked to a pro-Palestinian campaign, police said on Monday, with 60 of them still awaiting deportation.

As of midnight, police at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv had detained 78 people, more than two-thirds of them French nationals, spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

Among those detained were 51 French nationals, 11 Britons, six Italians, five Canadians, two Spanish nationals and three others from Switzerland, Portugal and the US.

Officials had already sent 18 people back to their ports of origin, while another 60 had refused to leave voluntarily and had been taken to two facilities near Tel Aviv, she said.

Hundreds of Israeli police were deployed at the airport from Saturday night in a bid to prevent the arrival of a wave of foreigners taking part in the "Welcome to Palestine" fly-in campaign, also known as the "flytilla."

Organisers of the campaign, now in its third year, had been expecting to welcome up to 1,500 people, but Israel vowed to prevent them from entry, warning airlines they would be forced to foot the bill for the activists' immediate return home.

Most of Europe's main airlines quickly fell in line, cancelling the tickets of at least 300 Israel-bound passengers, and sparking angry protests in several European capitals.

Police at the airport also arrested nine Israeli activists who had come to support the visitors.


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