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PA Lets Al-Jazeera Back Into West Bank Print E-mail

By Khaled Abu Toameh
July 19, 2009

The Palestinian Authority on Sunday announced that the Arabic TV network Al-Jazeera would be allowed to resume work in the West Bank.

Last week the PA suspended Al-Jazeera's operations and sent policemen to shut down the station's Ramallah offices.

The decision to suspend Al-Jazeera was taken after the network, along with several other TV stations, reported about allegations made by estranged PLO leader Farouk Kaddoumi to the effect that PA President Mahmoud Abbas and former PA security commander Muhammad Dahlan had assisted Israel in the "assassination" of Yasser Arafat.

PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, who signed the closure order in his capacity as information minister, on Sunday signed another order permitting Al-Jazeera to resume work.

Stressing the PA's keenness to preserve freedom of the media, Fayad said he took the latest decision after consulting with legal experts.

He said that despite the decision to allow Al-Jazeera to reopen its office, the PA was still determined to file a libel suit against the station for airing Kaddoumi's "fabrications."

The PA's decision to rescind the closure was not unexpected. A source close to Fayad told The Jerusalem Post that the decision to ban Al-Jazeera was originally taken by Abbas and some of his close aides.

"Mr. Fayad was opposed to this step from the beginning," the source said. "He said that such a move would be counterproductive and cause more damage."

The source added that Abbas was so furious with Al-Jazeera for airing Kaddoumi's charges that he had initially instructed the PA government not only to shut the station's office, but to arrest all its correspondents in the West Bank, including bureau chief Walid al-Omari.

"Again, the prime minister [Fayad] was strongly opposed to the decision to arrest the Al-Jazeera reporters," the source revealed.

"The director of Fayad's press office, Ghassan Khatib, was also opposed to the closure of the station's bureau."

The closure of the Al-Jazeera office drew sharp criticism from many Palestinians, who accused the PA of harassing and intimidating journalists.

Tensions between the PA and Al-Jazeera have been mounting ever since senior PA officials accused the popular satellite station of serving as a platform for Hamas. Abbas has long been under pressure by many of his aides to ban Al-Jazeera from operating in PA-controlled areas in the West Bank under the pretext that it "incites" against the PA leadership in Ramallah.

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