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Why Palestinian leaders have banned Al Jazeera

Ahead of a major Fatah leadership conference, the Arab TV network reported Tuesday that President Mahmoud Abbas had been involved in an assassination plot against his predecessor, Yasser Arafat.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 15, 2009

Palestinian journalists are seen through a window at the offices of Al-Jazeera in the West Bank city of Ramallah Wednesday, the day that The Palestinian Authority banned the Arabic news channel from operating in its territory.

Fadi Arouri/REUTERS



The Palestinian Authority (PA) on Wednesday banned Al Jazeera television from operating in its territory and threatened to take legal action against the Qatar-based Arabic satellite channel because of allegations it made against President Mahmoud Abbas.

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Al Jazeera ran an interview a day earlier in which Farouk Kaddoumi, a senior leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), charged that Mr. Abbas conspired with Israel in 2003 to kill Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Mr. Arafat died in November 2004 after being sent abroad for medical treatment. No cause was disclosed, and Palestinian political circuits have since been rife with gossip over possible foul play.

Al Jazeera said it was "stunned" by the PA's action, noting that several other outlets had carried the story – based on a press conference called by Mr. Kaddoumi, who lives in Jordan.

"We firmly reject the accusations," Walid al-Omary, the channel's director in Ramallah, told Agence France-Presse. "We regret this decision, which harms the freedom of expression and the press in this country."

The closure of Al Jazeera, which has prompted protest from media rights organizations, comes against a backdrop of ongoing tensions over how the channel covers the PA. Officials in Ramallah have complained in the past few years – particularly since Hamas ousted Fatah from Gaza amid intense fighting in 2007 – that the station has grown more sympathetic toward Hamas than Fatah.

During the war in Gaza six months ago, Fatah officials in the West Bank were furious with the satellite station's coverage because it portrayed the PA as being glad to see Israeli warplanes attacking Hamas targets. Hamas, in turn, accused Fatah operatives in Gaza of giving the Israelis information as to their whereabouts.