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Journalists banned from Gaza Strip hospitals and Rafah until further notice

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the Hamas interior ministry's decision to deny Palestinian and foreign journalists access to the southern city of Rafah and to all hospitals in the Gaza Strip until further notice. The ban was issued on 14 August 2009, after fighting broke out in Rafah between the Hamas government and a radical Islamist group.

"The Hamas-led government's interior ministry has again demonstrated a desire to control news and information in the Gaza Strip," Reporters Without Borders said. "Only the presence of journalists would ensure independent information about what took place in Rafah on 14 and 15 August."

The press freedom organisation added: "This ban leaves journalists powerless and allows the authorities to avoid having to account for their actions during these important clashes."

The fighting between the Hamas government's security forces and members of Jund Ansar Allah, an armed Salafist group, left more than 20 dead and 112 wounded. It was sparked by the Friday sermon delivered by the group's leader, Sheikh Abdul Latif Musa, in the Ibn Taymiyya mosque on 14 August, in which he announced the creation of an Islamic emirate in Rafah.

The interior ministry's ban has been greeted with anger by virtually all of the Gaza Strip's journalists, who say it is an attack on media freedom and their autonomy. The Palestinian media and Palestinian journalists managed to keep operating and provide coverage during the Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip last January. But this ban concerns Palestinian journalists as well.

"Many photographers and cameramen have been prevented from working in the neighbourhood where the Ibn Taymiyya mosque is located since just after the start of the fighting on Friday until today," said AFP photographer Said Al-Khatib on 17 August. "They told us it was for safety reasons."

Members of the security forces raided the Gaza City bureau of the British news agency Reuters on 14 August after it ran a report about Musa's sermon together with video of the outbreak of fighting. The security forces demanded the Reuters videotape of the fighting, but did not obtain it.

In a 15 August communiqué, the interior ministry accused the Dubai-based satellite TV station Al Arabiya of broadcasting a report that contained lies and "insulted the Palestinian resistance fighters."

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