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A radical Islamic group in the Gaza Strip issued a death threat over the weekend against women working for the official Palestinian Authority television station, accusing them of dressing immodestly and behaving in a way that violates the teachings of Islam.
The threat, the first of its kind against female employees of Palestine TV, was made by the Righteous Swords of Islam, a relatively new group that is believed to have links with al-Qaida.
The group has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on Internet cafes and restaurants in the Gaza Strip over the past year.
Members of the group are also responsible for splashing acid in the face of a number of young women who had been accused of "immoral behavior." The Righteous Swords of Islam is one of three al-Qaida-affiliated groups that have popped up in the Gaza Strip over the past two years.
PA officials in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post that the presence of the extremist groups in the Gaza Strip would "eventually lead to the transformation of the Palestinian territories into a Taliban-style entity."
According to one official, "The day will come when we will miss Hamas. These are extremely dangerous groups that are trying to take Palestinian society back to the Dark Ages."
A leaflet distributed by the Righteous Swords of Islam specifically referred to the women who appear on Palestine TV. "The saying these days is that the enemy has withdrawn from the Gaza Strip and so have our morals," it read. "It's indeed disgraceful that the women working for the official Palestinian media are competing with each other to display their charms."
Referring to the fact that most of the female presenters were not wearing the niqab, a veil covering the face of Muslim women as a part of hijab, the leaflet asked: "Where are the decision-makers in this regard? Have we lost our conscience? Have the brothers, fathers and husbands stopped caring about their women?"
The group warned that its members would strike with an "iron fist and swords" against the women who are refusing to cover their faces. "We will destroy their homes," it announced. "We will blow up their working places. We have a lot of information about their addresses and we are following their movements."
The leaflet concluded by threatening to "slaughter" the women for allegedly spreading corruption in Palestinian society by appearing on the screen with their faces uncovered.
"The administration and workers at Palestine TV should know that we are much closer to them than they think," it added. "If necessary, we will behead and slaughter to preserve the spirit and morals of our people."
Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, strongly condemned the threats against the women and pledged to protect them.
"We reject the lies made by the so-called Righteous Swords of Islam," the Aksa Martyrs Brigades said in a statement released in Gaza City. "The threats against the female journalists and employees are very serious and we will not allow anyone to harm our national institutions."
Separately, masked gunmen blew up large parts of the Sheikh Zayed Cafeteria in Gaza City on Saturday morning. No group claimed responsibility, but PA security sources said they did not rule out the possibility that the place had been targeted by extremist Muslims.â€¢