Israeli soldiers attacked on Sunday the Palestinian Information Minister, Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, after his participation in a nonviolent protest against the bulldozing of olive orchards in Artas village, near Bethlehem.The soldiers violently assaulted Barghouthi, hitting him and several others with batons.

Dr. Barghouthi stated that soldiers attacked dozens of women and children and pushed them on the ground as they peacefully protested against the uprooting of their orchards, settlements and the Annexation Wall.

In a press conference that followed the protest, Barghouthi said that the soldiers were “monsters who attack children and women with utmost force and violence,” adding that after the press left the scene, the army pushed more troops into the area and used tear gas and rubber-coated bullets on the protestors.

Israel is attempting to annex land in Artas village in order to link the Efrat settlement with the settlement bloc of Ma’ale Adumim, an act that will, in turn, lead to the annexation of additional lands and the isolation of Palestinian areas through the establishment of the Wall and the settlement chain around them.

“Israel claims it wants to protect its citizens”, Barghouthi said, “But what is going on is worse than the apartheid regime that dominated South Africa.”

Dr. Barghouthi described the Israeli attacks as Israel’s official response to the Arab Peace initiative and to the efforts to establish real peace in the region.

He called for exposing the Israeli violations and for unifying the Palestinian front against Israeli aggression, as opposed to fighting each other in Gaza.

Dr. Barghouthi also said that the army was stepping up its attacks in the Gaza Strip by carrying out air strikes and using artillery to shell Palestinian areas. Meanwhile, in the West Bank, the settlement and separation programs continue unabated.

He called on the international community to lift the unjust siege imposed on the Palestinian people, and impose sanctions on Israel for its war crimes and ongoing attacks against Palestinian civilians.