Journalist, media worker killed in Gaza City

New York, May 14, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalist is outraged by the killings of a journalist and a media worker, who were shot on Sunday in Gaza City.

Gunmen wearing presidential guard uniforms stopped a taxi carrying Suleiman Abdul-Rahim al-Ashi, 25, an economics editor for the Hamas-affiliated daily Palestine, and Mohammad Matar Abdo, 25, a manager responsible for distribution and civic relations, Editor-in-Chief Mustafa al-Sawaf told CPJ today. The taxi was stopped at 2:30 p.m. in a high-security area southwest of Gaza City that is controlled by Fatah, al-Sawaf and other journalists told CPJ.

News accounts vary on the ensuing events; al-Sawaf said the two men were beaten before being shot on a public street. Al-Ashi died at the scene, while Abdo was taken to Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City where he died at 3 a.m. today, al-Sawaf and CPJ sources said. Al-Sawaf said his description was based on interviews with eyewitnesses and an account that Abdo provided his brother before he died.

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate and the Palestinian Journalists Bloc both denounced the killings. Mohamed Edwan, a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, said Fatah had nothing to do with the killings and that presidential guards are instructed to shoot only in self-defense. He said Fatah condemns the killings and urges that the perpetrators be punished.

“We condemn the murders of Suleiman Abdul-Rahim al-Ashi and Mohammad Matar Abdo and offer condolences to their families,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority must ensure a swift, thorough, and fair investigation into this heinous crime.”

Al-Ashi and Abdo were scheduled to meet with economic and tourism organizations in Gaza that afternoon, al-Sawaf told CPJ. The fledgling Palestine newspaper was launched early this May.

The murders come amid clashes in the coastal strip over the previous 24 hours. The Palestinian Health Ministry reported that at least six people died and another 52 wounded in fighting between rival Fatah and Hamas militias.

Rivalry between the Hamas-led government elected in January and the Fatah movement has put pressure on Palestinian journalists to align themselves with particular groups. Journalists have endured harassment, threats, and beatings by Palestinian security forces and various factions in retaliation for their coverage of Palestinian politics.