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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
Britons acting as 'human shields'
An Israeli soldier watches as activists demonstrate, near Bethlehem
Four British activists have been hurt in the West Bank
Several British protesters are acting as "human shields" against possible Israeli military action in the Palestinian territories.

The protesters entered several Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank - from where several suicide bombers have hailed - on Monday night.

They made the move hours after nine foreign activists, four of them Britons, were injured when Israeli soldiers opened fire at a peace march near Bethlehem.

It was the most shocking brutality I've ever seen

Jeremy Hardy

Up to 12 Sussex University students have also been trapped by Israeli troops laying siege to the West Bank town of Ramallah, it has been confirmed.

Comedian and writer Jeremy Hardy, who was with the activists when they were shot, said he was concerned about the safety of the protesters.

"Various people went to the camp last night to protect the families, to act as a human shield, feeling that the soldiers might be less brutal if they knew there was an international presence.

"Several Britons are among those who have gone to the camp. We're quite worried about their safety."

Israeli troops have occupied the West Bank towns of Tulkarm, Qalqilya, Ramallah and Bethlehem
The British protesters are among several hundred foreign peace activists estimated to be in the region, most of whom are aligned with the International Solidarity Movement To Free Palestine.

Mr Hardy said he and some protesters were trapped in a hotel near the outskirts of Bethlehem, with Israeli and Palestinian soldiers fighting outside.

Mr Hardy told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he had never before seen such "brutality" as when the Israeli soldiers fired towards the peaceful protesters.

Four Britons - Glaswegian Kunle Ibidun; James Budd from Ipswich; Chris Dunham from London and Bradford University student Aisa Kiuosue - were slightly injured, as were five other foreign activists.

Protesters 'determined'

Mr Hardy said the soldiers then turned their fire on a group of reporters, even though they were clearly press.

"It was the most shocking brutality I've ever seen. There was absolutely no provocation from our side. It was very frightening," he said.

Jeremy Hardy
Jeremy Hardy: Trapped in his hotel by the fighting
The Foreign Office said it is helping two of the four injured protesters, who have asked to leave. The other two have returned to their Bethlehem hotel.

Sarah Irving, an ISM volunteer from Hulme, Manchester, who was part of the protest, said the incident had only made the protesters more determined.

Speaking from Bethlehem, she said: "It has hardened their resolve to stay here and help protect Palestine in the knowledge that whatever happened to them is nothing compared to what others have had to go through."

A Sussex University spokeswoman confirmed that several of its students had been caught in Ramallah - where Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is trapped in his compound.

"We are concerned for their safety but we recognise they are adults and are able to make a choice as to how to spend their vacation.

"We know the Foreign Office is in touch and we feel sure that the consulate and the proper authorities will provide the necessary assistance in order to ensure their safe return," she said.

See also:

02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel holds veteran French activist
01 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Israel 'dragging Mid-East into war'
30 Mar 02 | Middle East
Sharon's strong-arm tactic
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