01/11/2016, 00.00
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
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Jerusalem office of Israeli NGO B’Tselem torched in suspected arson attack

The NGO champions human rights in the Occupied Territories. The blaze broke out when the office was closed so no one was killed or injured. Human rights activists and groups blame the Netanyahu government for the serious incident. Last month, Israel’s Defence minister slammed Breaking the Silence.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A fire broke out overnight Sunday at the Jerusalem office of an Israeli NGO that champions human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, a spokeswoman for the organisation said. "Initial reports published by the media indicate that police suspect arson," she added. 

The fire caused extensive damage to the NGO’s offices, but no one was killed or injured, as the premises were empty at the time.

In an official statement, B'Tselem said that the attack would not stop its work. On Facebook, the group released a video showing the damage caused by the blaze.

The fire, which broke out around 10 pm, was contained by the firefighters within an hour. The fire department reported that there were two centres of combustion, both on the first floor where B'Tselem's offices are housed.

Peace Now said that "the arson at the B'Tselem office is an attempted attack that miraculously did not claim human lives, and the cabinet ministers, led by Netanyahu are responsible.”

For activists and NGOs, the attack has to be seen in the context of government incitement and smear campaigns against Israel's human rights groups, especially those who defend the Palestinians.

In recent weeks, the Israeli government has targeted such groups and NGOs, for their work in favour of human rights.

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a major crackdown on “left-wing” NGOs with contentious draft legislation to toughen rules on rights groups receiving funds from abroad. Left-wing NGOs described the move as a witch-hunt.

One of these is Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli veterans who served in combat "and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territor(y)."

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Tuesday he had banned Breaking the Silence from participating in any official activities with Israeli forces, Israeli media reported.

On social media, Yaalon called the left-wing veteran group hypocrites spreading "false propaganda" against Israeli forces and the State of Israel in attempt to "delegitimise" them.

Reacting, also on social media Breaking the Silence said that the group has been under attack for the past several months, "through a pre-meditated campaign, in which members of the extreme right-wing, including Israeli parliamentarians and elected officials, along with public figures and right-wing organizations, are trying to silence both us and every debate related to the 48-year-long occupation."

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