Palestinian Authority shuts down Al Jazeera in the West Bank
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas temporarily shut down the West Bank operations of the Doha-based Arabic satellite channel Al Jazeera on Wednesday, following the airing of a political rival who claimed the Palestinian president of involvement in Yasser Arafat’s still questionable death.
Farouk Kaddoumi, a longtime rival of President Abbas’ Fatah movement, accused the President of playing a role in Arafat’s 2004 death.
The Palestinian Information Ministry accused Al Jazeera of incitement and unbalanced reporting in the Palestinian territories, though it did not address the specific accusations.
“Despite our repeated calls to remain neutral when it covers the Palestinian issue and to be balanced when it comes to the internal Palestinian situation, the channel continues to incite against the PLO and the PA,” a PLO statement said. The statement continued by warning that the government intends to bring the channel to court.
Walid al-Omary, Al Jazeera bureau chief in Ramallah, said his station rejects allegations of bias. “We regret this decision, which harms the freedom of expression and the press in this country,” Omary said.
Palestinian Information Minister Riad al-Malki defended the move arguing, “We are not curtailing (press freedom). We are respecting the law, that is why we asked the legal system to act.”
The Information Ministry has not yet said whether al Jazeera’s Ramallah office would be shut down, but the BBC reported that employees have been seen collecting their belongings.
The ruling family of Qatar funds Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English channels. It has often been accused of bias against the governments of the US and Israel and is often criticized by Arab governments for being too-critical.