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(photo credit: AP [AP])
Palestinian journalists on Sunday announced a series of protests to demand that Hamas and Fatah stop targeting them.
The announcement, made during several journalist demonstrations, came after a crackdown on newsmen in both the Fatah-controlled West Bank and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
Embattled Palestinian reporters said such attacks had become the norm in the Palestinian territories.
"Both Hamas and Fatah are targeting journalists," said a Ramallah-based journalist. "We are caught in the cross fire between Hamas and Fatah."
Another member of the press from Jenin said he had been receiving death threats on an almost daily basis in recent months. "One day it's from Fatah, and another day the threats come from Hamas," he told The Jerusalem Post. "For the past month, I haven't been able to write anything under my name out of fear for my life."
On Friday, four journalists were beaten and arrested by Hamas militiamen during a demonstration by Fatah supporters in Gaza City.
Hours later, a large group of journalists thwarted an attempt by Hamas militiamen to arrest Sakher Abu al-Oun, a reporter working with Agence France Press.
"They surrounded my home and scared my children," Abu al-Oun said. "This is an attempt to intimidate journalists and prevent them from carrying out their job. I call on all my colleagues to be united for the sake of freedom of expression."
Last month, the Hamas government banned distribution of Fatah-controlled newspapers in the Gaza Strip. The move, according to the government, came in response to a similar decision by the Fatah-controlled government of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, which banned four Hamas-affiliated newspapers from being sold in the West Bank: Falasteen, Al-Risalah, Al-Karameh and Al-Sabah.
At least four Fatah-affiliated radio stations have been shut down since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June.
The Fatah-affiliated Palestinian Journalists Syndicate said the Hamas crackdown on journalists "plunged the Palestinian media into an unprecedented dark phase."
"The assaults on the journalists are aimed at serving the interests of our enemies and depriving our people of the truth," the syndicate said. "We hold Hamas fully responsible for endangering the lives of journalists."
Abed Shana'ah, a photographer working for Reuters, said he was beaten by five Hamas militiamen during Friday's anti-Hamas demonstration in Gaza City.
"They beat me with the butts of their rifles and tried to confiscate my camera," he said. "They threatened to shoot me in the legs if I did not hand over the camera. But an elderly man standing behind me started arguing with them, and he managed to take my camera."
Three other journalists - Mustafa al-Bayed, Jamal Abu Nahel and Muhammad al-Baba - were beaten and detained during the protest.
"We were filming the demonstration when members of Hamas's Executive Force attacked us and dragged us by force to their car," Bayed said. "Once we were inside the car, they started beating us and cursing us."
They were taken to a Hamas security installation and held in a small, filthy cell for hours.
"When we told them that what they were doing was in violation of freedom of expression, they mocked us and continued to beat us," recounted Bayed. "Then they informed us that we had violated the law by covering an illegal demonstration and that they had decided to confiscate our cameras and tapes."
The three journalists said they had resisted efforts by Hamas to force them to appear on a Hamas-run TV station to apologize for their actions and to praise Hamas for treating them well while they were in detention.
"Hamas feels threatened by the media," said Hafez Barghouti, editor of the Fatah-controlled Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda newspaper. "That's why Hamas is trying to silence the media through oppressive methods."
Palestinian writer Muwafak Matar said Hamas's crackdown on the media was reminiscent of the "crimes committed by the gangs of the international mafia." The attacks and threats against journalists were "extremely dangerous" and reflected Hamas's attitude toward the role of journalists, he said.
Another writer, Malki Suleiman, urged journalists to take to the streets to protest the attacks and the attempts to silence them.
"Palestinian journalists have been sentenced to death," he said. "Those who care about the media are requested to redouble their efforts to defend the freedom of expression in Palestine before it's too late."
For its part, Hamas accused the Fatah-controlled PA security forces of targeting Hamas-affiliated journalists and media organizations in the West Bank.
"[PA Chairman] Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah should be the last to talk about the freedom of the press in the Palestinian territories," said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. He noted that the PA security forces in the West Bank had raided several press offices and TV stations and arrested journalists suspected of supporting Hamas.