THE closely watched trial of a Palestinian girl who slapped and punched two Israeli soldiers has been opened and adjourned after the judge ordered all proceedings to be held behind closed doors.

Ahed Tamimi, 17, appeared fresh and confident as she entered the packed Israeli military courtroom in the West Bank, in a case which has drawn wide criticism of Israel for prosecuting the teenager.

She briefly whispered to relatives in the back of the room before the judge ordered everyone except her family out. “Stay strong!” shouted her father, Bassem Tamimi.

After the prosecution read the indictment, the trial was adjourned until next month.

The teenager has been detained since she was arrested on December 19, four days after she was filmed confronting the soldiers outside her West Bank home.

Israel has treated her actions as a criminal offence, indicting her on charges of assault and incitement that could potentially lead to years in prison.

But her supporters see a brave girl who struck two armed soldiers outside her West Bank home in frustration after having just learned that Israeli troops had seriously wounded a 15-year-old cousin, shooting him in the head from close range with a rubber bullet during nearby stone-throwing clashes.

International human rights groups have criticised the aggressive prosecution, and diplomats from the European Union and several European countries attended the hearing as observers before they were kicked out along with journalists.

In his decision, the judge, Lieutenant Colonel Menachem Lieberman, said the trial would remain closed for Tamimi’s own protection. He added: “I didn’t think it’s good for the minor that there are 100 people in the courtroom.”

Her Israeli lawyer, Gaby Lasky, objected, saying the family wants the proceedings to be public. She accused the court of closing the proceedings to prevent the world from watching.

“The court decided what is best for

the court, and not what is good for Ahed,” Lasky said.