Hamas launches television station in Gaza

The Hamas has launched a TV station in the Gaza Strip, a first step toward setting up a satellite station like the one Hizbullah guerrillas run in Lebanon, Hamas officials said Monday. The Al Aksa Television station is being set up just weeks before the Palestinians' January 25 parliamentary election, and if up and running in time, could help Hamas in its campaign, analysts said. Hamas presents a serious challenge to the ruling Fatah party, which has led the Palestinian Authority since its establishment in 1994. The station broadcast a half-hour of readings from the Islamic holy book, the Koran, on Sunday, but nothing else due to technical difficulties, said a Hamas official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the issue. During down times, a picture of the Al Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, one of Islam's holiest shrines, fills the screen. Once officially launched, Al Aksa Television will be the first private station in Gaza. Hamas says it wants the station to be high-tech and modern, not like the stodgy, state-run Arab stations. "Politically and from a freedom of expression point of view, every party is entitled to have whichever medium it sees fit, to present its political programs and promote them," said Moheib Nawati, a political analyst in Gaza. Until recently, Hamas' only real message was resistance, so the radio station it runs was sufficient to get out its word, Nawati said. Now, with the Islamic group expanding into politics, it wants a TV station to effectively spread its new ideas, he added. "The timing, I think, serves the election campaign and is in a way a form of early preparation for Hamas' attempt to control matters more, including presenting its political programs after the elections," Nawati said.