German TV shuts down Gaza office to protest cameraman's arrest

ARD angered by Hamas detaining journalist following Friday's beachside explosion that killed 5 Hamas gunmen.

ARD cameraman 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
ARD cameraman 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The ARD German television network closed its Gaza office on Wednesday to protest the arrest of its only cameraman in the Gaza Strip by Hamas forces late last week. Gaza native Sawah Abu Saif, who is in his early 40s, had been detained since late Friday or early Saturday, when he was taken from his home by four masked Hamas men following Friday's beachside explosion that killed 5 Hamas gunmen, said Richard C. Schneider, bureau chief and chief correspondent of ARD German television in Israel and the Palestinian territories. "We haven't been in touch with him since" the arrest, Schneider said in a telephone interview. Hamas blamed the deadly explosion on rival Fatah forces - which denied any involvement - and subsequently arrested dozens of their supporters. According to Schneider, senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar told him "Sawah is one of the leading Fatah activists in Gaza" and might be released in a few days. "The fact that they say he is a Fatah activist is absolutely incorrect," Schneider said. "He is not an activist of any party. He has been working for seven years as an ARD cameraman…and nothing else." Schneider said they received information Wednesday indicating that "he is in a very bad physical situation" and "we are very concerned that he might have been tortured." He said his agency has spoken to others who had been detained last week and that some had apparently been tortured. The four-person Gaza office would remain closed until Abu Saif's release, he added. The Foreign Press Association also issued a statement on Wednesday demanding the cameraman's immediate release. "We are deeply concerned about reports that Abu Saif's health and safety have been jeopardized," the statement said. "Abu Saif is a working member of the foreign media in Gaza. His detention cannot be justified and represents a clear violation of freedom of the press." In a separate incident, security forces in Gaza took Imad Eid, Gaza office director of the Palestinian news agency Ma'an, into custody and questioning for about 90 minutes early Wednesday morning, according to Eid. Eid said he was questioned about a recent article published by Ma'an about the closure of the "Aylaboun Charity" and the arrest of the organization's director. Eid, who is also a correspondent for the Lebanese television station Al-Manar, was told that he was arrested after Hamas officials complained that they did not close a charity by that name. "I said that this news was not from Gaza and I don't know how it was received by Ma'an," Eid said. According to a statement by the agency, the article was published from their main office in Bethlehem after it received a press release from the charity. Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007, routing security forces from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction.