Bomb blast damages Al-Arabiya office in Gaza

New York, January 23, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the bomb attack targeting the Gaza City office of the Dubai-based satellite news channel Al-Arabiya on Monday night. No causalities were reported, but the office was severely damaged, Al-Arabiya reported.

A bomb exploded around 9 p.m. outside the entrance to Al-Arabiya’s office in the Al-Shurouq towers building, which houses several other local and foreign media outlets in central Gaza City. Other media offices were damaged in the attack, according to news reports. No group has claimed responsibility.

“Journalists in Gaza and the West Bank are becoming victims of a worsening climate of violence and intimidation,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said today. “The ability of the press to report on this critically important story is at stake, and it is up to Palestinian authorities to put an end to the cycle of impunity for those who target journalists.”

The channel’s offices were vacant since Wednesday, when it began receiving a stream of anonymous phone and text-message threats, including specific threats that the office would be bombed. The threats were sparked when Al-Arabiya broadcast footage of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh that Hamas, the ruling Palestinian party, deemed insulting and defamatory, Al-Arabiya sources said.

Al-Arabiya aired an unedited clip obtained from the local news agency Palestine Press in which Haniyeh remarked to advisers that the Palestinian Authority would not accept conditional international aid “even if it were to come from God,” according to Ma’an, an online Palestinian news agency, and sources at Al-Arabiya. The comments caused controversy among those who considered it an insult to God.

Haniyeh’s aides protested the coverage and threatened to close the station, saying the comment was taken out of context, Ma’an reported. They said Haniyeh was merely informing his advisers of a statement made by Azzam al-Ahmad, head of Fatah’s parliamentary bloc, during a televised discussion with Ahmed Yousef, Haniyeh’s political advisor, on Al-Manar TV, the satellite news channel affiliated with the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, Ma’an reported.

Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad said the party deplored the attack on Al-Arabiya and offered protection to the station’s offices, according to Ma’an.

Palestinian journalists came out in force today to protest the attack, Reuters reported. The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate and major Palestinian political factions denounced the blast and called for swift action to apprehend the perpetrators.

“We hold the Palestinian government responsible for what happened because it had been informed of the threats against Al-Arabiya team members and correspondents,” said Reham Abdel-Karim, Gaza director of the satellite channel, Reuters reported.