Al-Jazeera attacked in Lebanon and West Bank

New York, January 25, 2011–Lebanese protesters today set fire to an Al-Jazeera van and menaced a reporting crew covering a demonstration in Tripoli in support of the ousted prime minister, Saad al-Hariri. 

It was one of two attacks against Al-Jazeera this week: The station’s office in Ramallah, in the West Bank, came under siege on Monday by protesters angered by the station’s disclosure of confidential documents concerning Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns both attacks and calls on Lebanese and Palestinian authorities to investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice.

In the port city of Tripoli, north of Beirut, dozens of protesters surrounded Al-Jazeera’s van and set it ablaze as correspondent Majed Abdel Hadi and his crew were reporting from the roof of a nearby building, the station and others reported. One Al-Jazeera technician was near the van but was unharmed. The Al-Jazeera crew took shelter in the building until they were evacuated military forces, Abdel Hadi told CPJ. “The street protests started in Tripoli around 10 a.m., and in the beginning it was a peaceful demonstration. It’s difficult to say what happened but after an hour the demonstration turned violent,” Abdel Hadi said on the air. Twenty people in all were wounded as the Tripoli protests turned violent, Al-Jazeera reported, but no journalists were reported injured.

The appointment of the Hezbollah-backed Najib Mikati as Lebanon’s new prime minster triggered protests by al-Hariri supporters that were dubbed a “Day of Rage.” Al-Hariri later apologized for the Al-Jazeera attack. “I want to express my regret for the attack on Al-Jazeera station and the riots against the military and security forces,” he said during a televised speech today.

On Monday, dozens of protesters supporting the Palestinian Authority vandalized and tried to break into Al-Jazeera’s Ramallah offices, according to news reports. The protesters, who were eventually thwarted by police, were angered by the station’s disclosure of documents that detailed the level of concessions offered by Palestinian negotiators. The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat accused Al-Jazeera of presenting the documents in an “inciting and selective” manner in order to destroy the Palestinian Authority, according to news reports.

“These attacks on Al-Jazeera are a crude attempt to intimidate a prime source of news in the Arab world, and they must be condemned by those in authority,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Vandalism of the channel’s bureau in Ramallah sends a disturbing signal for press freedom in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority must bring those responsible to justice.”