Abbas reportedly outraged after satellite station airs claims that he was complicit in Arafat's death.
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decided on Wednesday to ban Al-Jazeera television from operating in the West Bank after accusing it of inciting against him and the PA government.
The decision drew strong condemnations from Al-Jazeera and many Palestinians who accused Abbas of cracking down on political opponents and critics.
PA security officers raided the Al-Jazeera offices in the center of Ramallah and informed workers of the decision to ban them from operating in the West Bank.
The decision means that Al-Jazeera would not be able to broadcast from any area under the control of the PA.
Al-Jazeera journalists, most of whom hold Israeli-issued ID cards, said that they would continue to operate from the station's offices in Jerusalem.
The station was banned for broadcasting statements made by top PLO leader Farouk Kaddoumi in which he accused Abbas and former PA security commander Muhammad Dahlan of conspiring with Israel to assassinate Yasser Arafat.
Kaddoumi made the allegations during a news conference in Jordan earlier this week. Al-Jazeera and several other Arab media outlets had aired Kaddoumi's statements, enraging Abbas and his senior aides in Ramallah.
Since its establishment in 1996, Al-Jazeera has been targeted by several Arab governments, which have closed down its offices and arrested its correspondents.
Abbas's security forces have been systematically targeting journalists over the past few years. In the past year, at least seven Palestinian journalists and writers were arrested and held without trial in PA detention centers for allegedly criticizing the performance of Abbas and his prime minister, Salaam Fayad.
Abbas has long been under heavy pressure from his supporters to close down the Al-Jazeera offices in the West Bank for allegedly inciting against the PA leadership.
Senior PA officials have repeatedly accused the Qatar-based network of serving as a free platform for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
About two years ago, Fatah activists torched two vehicles belonging to Al-Jazeera in Ramallah. They are also believed to be responsible for setting fire to the home of a Nablus-based correspondent for Al-Jazeera during the same period.
Al-Jazeera crews and journalists have been banned from entering the Mukata presidential compound for the past year.
Last month, PA policemen stopped a crew belonging to Al-Jazeera in Hebron and confiscated their tapes. The crew had prepared a story about a young Palestinian man who had died in one of the PA detention centers. His family claimed he had been tortured to death after his interrogators accused him of membership in Hamas. The PA security forces said the detainee died after jumping from the second floor of the prison building while trying to escape.
The order to ban Al-Jazeera was signed by Fayad in his capacity as minister of information.
A statement issued by the ministry accused the network of devoting large segments of its broadcasts to incitement against the PLO and the PA.
The statement said the decision was needed to "protect the interests" of the Palestinians in wake of Hamas's "lies and fabrications."
Fayad said that he expected all media representatives who work in the PA territories to operate in a way that does not contravene the national interests of the Palestinians and the rule of law.
Walid Omari, an Israeli Arab who serves as Al-Jazeera's bureau chief in Israel and the Palestinian territories, expressed regret over the decision to ban him and his team from working in the West Bank.
Omari denied that Al-Jazeera had been inciting against the PA leaders and voiced hope that the decision would be rescinded.
Al-Jazeera's main headquarters in Qatar expressed "deep astonishment" over the decision, saying it reflected the PA's intolerance toward any form of criticism. The station said it was not clear why the PA chose to take such a measure against Al-Jazeera while many other media outlets also reported on Kaddoumi's charges from Jordan.
Kaddoumi's allegations against Abbas and Dahlan have also strained relations between the PA leadership in Ramallah and the Jordanian government.
PA officials expressed outrage over the Jordanian authorities' decision to allow Kaddoumi to hold a news conference in Amman. Some officials said they did not rule out the possibility that Jordan's King Abdullah II was behind the decision because he was unhappy with the way Abbas and Fayad were handling the affairs of the Palestinians.
According to a PA official in Ramallah, Abdullah earlier this week turned down a request by Abbas to come to Amman and meet with him to discuss the tensions between the two sides.
The Jordanian monarch is reported to have been enraged by the PA's decision to ask the World Bank to stop funding studies for a Red Sea-Dead Sea canal if Israel did not withdraw plans to confiscate West Bank land.
In Amman, Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications Nabil Sharif told The Jordan Times that the Red-Dead Water Conveyance Project is in the interest of all peoples of the region, adding that it will address the scarcity of water as well as the growing demand for electricity.
"We think that the [PA's] decision aimed to make the Israeli authorities stop their plans to expropriate large tracts of land between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea," the minister said.
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