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Defiant Arafat reasserts grip on power; Palestinian journalists barred fromcovering protests

Woensdag, Juli 21, 2004

By Matthew Kalman, The Globe and Mail (Canada), July 21, 2004.

Palestinian president Yasser Arafat moved to reclaim control yesterday after days
of political uncertainty and street violence that threatened to destabilize his regime.

After another round of emergency consultations at Mr. Arafat’s battered
headquarters in Ramallah, prime minister Ahmed Qureia was still in office and
appeared to have withdrawn a weekend resignation letter that the president
rejected.

Mr. Qureia stayed on despite Mr. Arafat’s insistence that the paramilitary
security forces remain directly subordinate to the president and the National
Security Council, which he heads, rather than reporting to a cabinet minister.

Wresting control of the powerful security and intelligence forces from
Mr. Arafat is a central plank of the internationally backed “road map” peace
plan and was one of Mr. Qureia’s major demands.

But the most troubling aspect of Mr. Arafat’s reassertion of control was a
warning to Palestinian journalists to cease all coverage of the kind of street
protests that rocked the Gaza Strip and some West Bank cities last weekend.
Reporters have also been threatened with severe punishment if they depict
clashes between rival groups in the Gaza Strip, such as the gunfight in Rafah
that injured 12 people on Sunday.

The ban effectively prevents international news outlets from covering these
events, since they depend on Palestinian photographers, reporters and editors
to produce news footage and written copy for broadcasters, print media and
wire services.

The last time such threats were issued was in September of 2001, when
Palestinian reporters were forced to suppress images of huge street celebrations
in Nablus and Bethlehem after the terrorist attacks on New York and
Washington. International news bureau chiefs for wire services including
Reuters and Associated Press were warned that their cameramen would be in
danger if their footage was broadcast in the West.

Yesterday’s edict was issued through the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, a
quasi-trade union controlled by Arafat loyalists. After an emergency meeting
held to discuss latest developments, the syndicate warned that any reporter or
photographer violating the ban would be severely punished.

“The pictures from the Gaza Strip are encouraging violence,” one Palestinian
official said, on condition he not be named. “We want to calm the situation; the
Palestinian journalists must not play into the hands of the rival groups.”

Journalists may not be the only ones at risk: A Palestinian legislator who has
led calls for reforms was shot and wounded in his West Bank home yesterday,
his family said. Nabil Amr, a former information minister, had just returned from
giving a critical television interview when unknown assailants shot at him
through a window.

The international community has expressed concern with Mr. Arafat’s failure to
reform his autocratic regime. Yesterday, the United States revived demands
that the Palestinian president give up powers to end the turmoil.

“We believe the correct path forward involves Mr. Arafat yielding power,
real executive power, to a prime minister, for that prime minister to do what is
needed for the Palestinian community,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said.

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