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TWO NEWSPAPER EMPLOYEES DIE IN GAZA CLASHES; PROTESTS WORLDWIDE CALL FOR BBC REPORTER'S RELEASE

A Palestinian newspaper editor and his colleague were fatally attacked in the Gaza Strip amid clashes between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah, report Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and a local human rights group.

According to RSF, Suleyman Al-Aashi and Mohammed Mattar Abdu of the pro-Hamas daily "Filistin" were driving to the newspaper on 13 May when they came under fire at a roadblock near the Al-Ansar compound, the headquarters of militias affiliated to the Fatah party. Al-Aashi was killed on the spot. Abdu was taken to a local hospital where he died of his injuries the next day. Both men were in their 20s.

Their deaths mark the biggest surge in factional fighting in months. According to the Associated Press, at least 20 people have died in the past three days, pushing the Palestinian Hamas-Fatah unity government closer to collapse.

"It is clear there are no longer any authorities capable of protecting journalists or carrying out investigations leading to the punishment of those responsible for violence against the press," says RSF.

The Palestinian Center for Development & Media Freedoms (Mada) is worried that impunity against those responsible for attacks on journalists and the kidnapping of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston will compel the attackers to "persist in their crimes and encourage others to imitate them."

Rallies held in Paris by RSF and BBC and in Toronto by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and media colleagues were two of dozens held worldwide in the two months since Johnston was abducted by armed men in Gaza City. An al-Qaeda-linked website posted a recorded statement last week from a group claiming to have kidnapped Johnston. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Palestinian authorities know where Johnston is being held but have refrained from using force to secure his release, at the request of the British government.

Johnston's abduction is having a debilitating effect on the foreign media and their ability to cover the Palestinian story from Gaza. "That story is now effectively not being told," CPJ says.

Visit these links:
- RSF on the murders: http://tinyurl.com/2tckwt
- RSF rally for Johnston: http://tinyurl.com/37jrhj
- CJFE rally: http://www.cjfe.org/releases/2007/11052007alan.html
- CPJ on Johnston: http://tinyurl.com/3au8av
- Mada news on the Press Emblem website: http://tinyurl.com/2u6wmw
- Associated Press: http://tinyurl.com/2nam3w
(15 May 2007)

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