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Political divisions make reporting nearly impossible for journalists

(RSF/IFEX) - 22 November 2010 - Journalists continue to be the collateral victims of the political struggle that Hamas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority have been waging for more than three years, regardless of all the international condemnation it has prompted. There seems to be no limit to the harassment of journalists in this sad and desperate quid-pro-quo between rival political forces.

Caught between the Palestinian Authority security services and those of Hamas, journalists and bloggers cannot report what is going on without running the risk of being targeted. Reporters Without Borders urges the political authorities in both the West Bank and Gaza to release all the journalists held illegally and stop using them as pawns in their dispute.

In one of the latest cases in the West Bank, Radio Bethlehem 2000 manager Georges Qanawati was arrested by Palestinian Authority intelligence services at the radio station on 15 November after it reported the existence of differences between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Mahmoud Dahlan, a member of Fatah's central committee. He was freed five days later.

Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip death threats were made against journalist, blogger and women's rights activist Asma Al-Ghul. A comment posted on her blog by someone calling himself "Masirek" told her "your hour has come" and threatened to burn her alive in front of her son. She has reported the threat to the Gaza police and Reporters Without Borders has written to Hamas interior minister Fathi Hamad voicing its concern.

Hamas security forces arrested four TV journalists, along with about 30 other people, at the office of Fatah representative Ashraf Jumaa in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, on 11 November, the sixth anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death. The journalists - Reuters cameraman Bassam Masud and reporter Ahmed Zaqut, and Al-Arabiya cameraman Mohammed Al-Jahjuh and reporter Ibrahim Abu Mustapha - had gone there to cover the screening of a documentary about one of Fatah's founders, the late Abu Jihad. They were taken to a police station and released an hour later.

Back in the West Bank, Amer Abdel Halim Abu Arfa, the correspondent of Al-Shihab (a Hamas-affiliated news agency based in Gaza), was arrested by the Palestinian Authority intelligence services on 10 November in Hebron. He had only recently being released after being sentenced by an Israeli court on 27 July to three months in prison and fine of 500 Jordanian dinars (520 euros).

Blogger Waleed Al-Husseini was arrested by the Palestinian Authority security services at the end of last month in Qalqiliya on charges of "promoting atheism" and "blaspheming against the Prophet and the Koran" in posts in English and Arabic on his blog and his Facebook page. The authorities have refused to make any comment. His family and friends have had no news of him since his arrest.

Al-Aqsa TV correspondent Tareq Abu Zeyd was arrested by the Palestinian Authority security services in Nablus on 8 November and was released six days later. No official reason was given for his detention. A military court sentenced him to 18 months in prison on 16 February although the supreme court had ordered his release the previous month, on 12 January.

A court released Mamduh Hamamreh, the Bethlehem correspondent of the satellite TV station Al-Quds, on bail of 400 Jordanian dinars (415 euros) on 7 November. A Hamas member, he had been arrested by the Palestinian Authority security services at his home on 18 September and had been placed in Bethlehem prison on a charge of "endangering security."

His detention was extended three times for the purposes of further investigation - on 28 September and on 5 and 20 October - before the court finally released him. He is due to appear before the court again on 23 November.
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