Top Palestinian journalist seeks asylum in Norway

Al-Arabiya correspondent Seif al-Din Shahin leaves Gaza after death threats.

hamas in gaza 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
hamas in gaza 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
A prominent Palestinian journalist from the Gaza Strip has sought political asylum in Norway, Palestinian journalists said Saturday. Seif al-Din Shahin, the correspondent for the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel network, left the Gaza Strip together with his family, they said, noting that he had received many death threats over the past few months. Shahin's request has yet to be approved by the Norwegian government. Several other Palestinian journalists are also reported to have fled the Gaza Strip out of fear for their lives. Earlier this year, masked gunmen set fire to the offices of Al-Arabiya in Gaza City, causing heavy damage to furniture and equipment. Although no group claimed responsibility, Palestinian journalists blamed members of Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades. The group was also responsible for beating Shahin in two separate incidents in 2001 and 2004. The second assault followed Shahin's live broadcast of a rally held on Fatah's anniversary. The report angered Fatah leaders who had instructed Shahin and other journalists to report that tens of thousands had participated. In 2003 he was arrested by the Palestinian Authority security forces because of his reporting. Al-Arabiya's offices in Ramallah have also been attacked by Fatah gunmen on a number of occasions. Shahin's brother, Muhammad, confirmed that his brother had left the Gaza Strip, but said he was unaware of the reports that he had asked for political asylum. "My brother left for personal reasons," he said. Shahin's decision to seek political asylum in Norway comes amid a campaign that is being waged by Fatah against Al-Arabiya's rival, Al-Jazeera. Fatah leaders have even called for closing down the Al-Jazeera offices in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, accusing the Qatari-owned TV station of serving as a mouthpiece for Hamas and other radical Islamic groups. "Al-Jazeera is openly biased in favor of Hamas," said a senior Fatah leader. "This station must be banned from working in the Palestinian territories." Muhammad Dahlan, the former Fatah security commander in the Gaza Strip, is said to be spearheading calls for banning Al-Jazeera. Last week he told Palestinian journalists that Al- Jazeera had been doing everything to drive a wedge and encourage schism among Palestinians. "This station has become an organ for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood," he said. Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top PLO official closely associated with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, accused Al-Jazeera of endorsing Hamas and its terrorists. "Al-Jazeera is a partner in the crimes that are being perpetrated by the terrorists of Hamas's armed wing against our people," he said. Muhammad Hourani, a senior Fatah operative in the Gaza Strip, said Al-Jazeera was no longer an independent and objective source for news. "They are a party to the conflict [between Hamas and Fatah]," he said. He said that Al-Jazeera had refused to cover atrocities committed by Hamas in the Gaza Strip over the past few weeks and was providing a platform for Fatah's enemies. Two weeks ago, Fatah militiamen set fire to the home of Hassan al-Titi, the Al-Jazeera correspondent in Nablus. One of the station's correspondents in the Gaza Strip, Hiba Akileh, came under fire from Fatah for allegedly ignoring the fact that Fatah gunmen had participated in the fighting against the IDF last week. Fatah gunmen have also torched two vehicles belonging to Al-Jazeera in Ramallah. The attack came after Al-Jazeera ignored demands to cover a Fatah rally in the city.