PA detains Gazan editor for 'libel'

Hamas claims Fatah, which controls the press, is running an incitement campaign.

A-zahar close up 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
A-zahar close up 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
A Palestinian editor from the Gaza Strip was detained on Monday by the Palestinian Authority for publishing a story about the theft of $400,000 from PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar while he was on a visit to Kuwait earlier this year. The story implied that Zahar was carrying large amounts of cash while Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were deprived of financial aid. This is the first time since the Hamas government took over that a Palestinian journalist has been detained for publishing a story that reflects negatively on one of its leaders. In the past, a number of Palestinian journalists who dared to criticize former PA chairman Yasser Arafat or his top aides were assassinated, imprisoned or beaten. Hamas leaders claim that the PA media, which is largely controlled by the rival Fatah party, has been waging a campaign of incitement against the Islamic movement and its leaders over the past few months. The detention of the editor is clearly designed to send a warning to all Fatah-affiliated reporters and media outlets. Abdullah Issa, publisher and editor of the on-line magazine Donia al-Watan, was summoned Monday morning to the offices of the PA attorney general in Gaza City, where he was questioned for several hours about the story following a complaint from Zahar, who is also one of the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip. Zahar complained that the story was completely unfounded and accused Issa and his magazine of publishing lies with the aim of defaming him and Hamas. According to the story, the money was stolen from Zahar's hotel room while he was on a visit to Kuwait to collect funds for Hamas. Issa, who was later released on NIS 5,000 bail, accused Zahar and Hamas of trying to silence the voice of the free media in the Palestinian territories. "We only published the story after it appeared in a number of Arab Web sites," he said. "I don't understand why Zahar chose to file a complaint only against me and Donia al-Watan." Issa claimed that he and his magazine were being targeted by the Hamas government. "Instead of focusing on important issues such as the Israeli aggression and destruction and the starvation of our people, Hamas is busy filing complaints against Donia al-Watan," he said. "If Zahar has the right to lodge complaints against journalists, then our people have the right to hold Hamas accountable for the deterioration in their living conditions," he added. "We were hoping that the Hamas government would start chasing and arresting all the murderers and thugs who continue to roam the streets of the Gaza Strip and to open all the cases of financial corruption." Issa is one of the few Palestinian journalists who have been openly reporting on rampant corruption in the PA. His writings in Donia al-Watan have angered both Fatah and Hamas leaders and activists. The offices of the newspaper have been attacked several times by masked gunmen, who also threatened to kill Issa and his staff.