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Hamas shuts down journalist union

Hamas security services descended on the Gaza headquarters of the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate (PJS) and shut it down indefinitely last week, report the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). It is just the latest in a series of military attacks from all sides on the Palestinian press in the volatile region.

The authorities accused the union of "inexcusable intrusion" in the internal affairs of Palestinian journalists, said IFJ.

According to ANHRI, the closure follows Hamas's raid on the union in July, when it confiscated all of its computers.

"It is impossible not to conclude that Hamas authorities are targeting journalists who wish to promote solidarity and unity within the Palestinian community," said IFJ president Jim Boumelha, who led an IFJ delegation to Palestine last month to investigate the consequences of the Israeli occupation and address freedom of movement problems for journalists.

Hamas stopped the University of Al Azhar in Gaza from operating a video conference between PJS and the IFJ delegation. The IFJ delegates had been denied permission to enter Gaza by Israel.

PJS has been holding workshops to create a "modern constitution" to unite journalists across Palestine and prevent a split in the syndicate. Hamas drove the secular Fatah movement out of Gaza when it took power in June 2007. MADA has also been coordinating monthly meetings of PJS journalists, other media and authorities, including from the Ministry of Information, to help improve the free expression situation.

MADA says other recent attacks on the press include the detention and beating that Associated Press photographer Nasser Shyoukhi received at the hands of Israeli security forces when he was covering a weekly demonstration in Beit Omar in the West Bank against a nearby Jewish settlement on 25 September.

In a separate incident, Israeli police threatened a Palestinian reporter with death in Jerusalem on 24 September after she interviewed the family of a Palestinian child who died inhaling gas from a grenade thrown by Israeli soldiers. Diala Jwehan, a correspondent for "Al-Quds Net", said that police standing outside the family's home threatened to fire bullets and tear gas at her and a colleague, reports MADA. "We believed that we would die. It was a very frightening situation," said Jwehan.

Jwehan was also targeted just two days earlier, reports MADA. On 22 September Jwehan and Nader Baybres, a correspondent for Palestine TV, were hit by tear gas bombs while covering protests between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youths in Jerusalem.

Several other journalists have complained about being arrested and detained without charge by both Hamas and Israeli security forces in recent weeks. For details of these cases, see MADA's monthly report and other alerts on its website.

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