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(photo credit: AP [file])
A group of female TV anchors marched through Gaza City on Sunday to protest a fundamentalist group's threat to behead them if they did not don modest Islamic dress.
Around 50 anchors and employees from government-run Palestine TV, mostly women wearing Muslim headscarves, marched from the station's offices in Gaza City toward the office of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to protest the threat from a group calling itself the Swords of Truth, known for firebombing Internet cafes and record stores.
"We will cut throats, and from vein to vein, if needed to protect the spirit and morals of this nation," the shadowy group said in a statement e-mailed to news agencies on Friday. The statement accused the female anchors of being "without any ... shame or morals."
Most of the 15 female anchors on Palestine TV wear headscarves, in accordance with Islamic tradition. But they also wear makeup and Western clothing, which extremists consider immodest.
"Shame on you," said Sally Abed, a Palestinian news anchor, addressing the Islamist group. "The people working in this institution are your people - if it's not your sister, it's your mother."
In many parts of the Muslim world, conservative policies keep women out of the news anchor's seat or require them to wear headscarves on air.
But headscarves are uncommon on television in the more secular states of Lebanon and Jordan, and Egypt's nonreligious regime keeps newscasters who wear them off its TV stations.
Hard-line Islam has been on the rise in the Gaza Strip in recent years, especially with the increase in poverty since the second Intifada.
Today it is more common to see women with their entire face covered with a veil - once an extremely rare practice in the Palestinian territories - than it is to see women with their hair uncovered.
The Swords of Truth faction has claimed responsibility for bombing some three dozen Internet cafes, music shops and pool halls, which it considers dens of vice. Assailants detonated small bombs outside the businesses at night, causing damage but no injuries.
Few details are known about the group. According to a Palestinian security official, the organization has less than 100 members and was formed last year to impose a hardline version of Islam in Gaza. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge information to the media.
Other new fundamentalist groups have become prominent in Gaza in recent months. An organization calling itself the Army of Islam claimed responsibility for kidnapping British Broadcasting Corp. reporter Alan Johnston in March. Johnston remains in captivity.
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And Muslim hard-liners lobbed a bomb at a UN-run school in May, accusing the world body of "turning schools into nightclubs" because it held a show of traditional Palestinian dancing.