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Israel troops raid offices of Palestinian rights groups

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories — Israeli security forces on Thursday raided the offices of multiple Palestinian human rights groups in the occupied West Bank, which the state has branded "terrorist organizations."

The military said soldiers and police officers "closed seven institutions and confiscated property" in the overnight raids.

At the Ramallah offices of human rights group Al Haq, the front door had been welded shut and a Hebrew statement left saying it would remain closed for "security reasons."

"Any activity in this place jeopardizes the security of the area, of the security forces and of public order," said a statement seen by AFP.

A priest said an Anglican church on the building's ground floor was damaged as troops sought to access the Al Haq offices.

"The soldiers came into the premises around 3:00 a.m. and we started hearing shots and banging on the doors," Father Fadi Diab of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church told AFP.

Al Haq is one of six Palestinian groups branded terrorist organizations by Israel in October for their alleged links to leftist militant group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Israel has not publicly shared any evidence of the alleged ties to the PFLP, which has been labeled a terrorist organization by many Western governments.

Staff from Al Haq removed the metal sheet covering their office door on Thursday and vowed to get back to work despite computers and other equipment being seized.

"We were established here not by Israel, not by their decision and we will continue our work," Al Haq director Shawan Jabarin told a press conference.

On Thursday morning, tear gas canisters littered the street outside Al Haq's office. The Israeli military said it responded to "rocks and Molotov cocktails" being thrown at soldiers during the overnight raids.

West Bank cities are nominally under the full control of the Palestinian Authority but the Israeli security forces carry out frequent incursions, which are often met with stones or petrol bombs.

EU backs rights groups

Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh vowed solidarity with Al Haq and the other non-governmental organizations raided overnight.

"This is not only an NGO, but this is also a State of Palestine institution—therefore as long as they work within the law, we will stand solid with them," Shtayyeh told AFP, as he visited the Al Haq offices.

Last month, nine European countries said they would continue to cooperate with the six groups.

"Past allegations of misuse of EU funds in relation to certain Palestinian civil society organizations have not been substantiated," EU diplomacy chief Josep Borrell's spokeswoman Nabila Massrali said Thursday, when asked about the Ramallah raids.

"The EU will continue to stand by international law and support civil society organizations," she added.

The raids come after Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced on Wednesday that the terror designation of three of the groups had passed into law.

The other three, which had challenged their terror designations, had their appeals rejected, a statement from Gantz's office said.

Israeli forces additionally raided the offices of a seventh organization—the Union of Health Work Committees—which was banned by Israel from working in the West Bank in 2020. — Agence France-Presse