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(photo credit: AP [AP])
Hamas has decided to issue its own press cards to journalists operating in the Gaza Strip - a move that has drawn sharp criticism from the majority of Palestinian journalists.
Hamas's decision is seen by many Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip as an attempt to restrict their work and control news coverage from that area.
"Now Hamas will decide who can work as a journalist and who can't," one journalist told The Jerusalem Post. "Obviously, Hamas is not going to issue press credentials to anyone who does not support them. And I know many journalists here who might have to start searching for new jobs."
Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah strongly condemned the Hamas move, describing it as an attempt to extort and intimidate journalists.
Al Mutawakel Taha, a senior official with the PA Ministry of Information, said that the decision to issue Hamas press cards was a "grave violation of the freedom of expression." He said in response to the move that the PA has decided to shut the Gaza-based branch of the PA Ministry of Information. "No one will recognize the new card," he said. "The attempt to impose press cards on journalists is unprecedented and a dangerous step that will have a negative impact on the freedom of the media in the Gaza Strip."
The Fatah-controlled Palestinian Journalists Syndicate said the Hamas decision was yet another move designed to terrorize journalists and prevent them from carrying out their work.
"The campaign of intimidation against Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip has entered a new and dangerous phase," said Naim Toubasi, chairman of the syndicate. "We have called upon our members not to comply with the Hamas request."
Toubasi added that Hamas had been summoning many of the Palestinian journalists for interviews about the nature of their work. He said that in some cases, journalists were instructed to refrain from using certain words and phrases in their writings, such as "Hamas militias" and the "ousted government" of [Hamas Prime Minister] Ismail Haniyeh.
Toubasi threatened to take disciplinary measures against any journalist who did not abide by his syndicate's boycott of the Hamas press cards.
Hassan Abu Hashish, a senior official with the Hamas-run Ministry of Information in the Gaza Strip, denied that the latest move was aimed at cracking down on local journalists.
He said previous PA governments had been issuing such cards since 1994.
"In recent years, the PA has stopped accrediting journalists," he noted. "We only decided to renew the practice to facilitate the work of Palestinian journalists." He also criticized the decision to close down the PA Ministry of Information in the Gaza Strip, saying it was not doing anything anyway to help journalists.