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Al Arabiya debate has Hamas, Fatah and UK spokesmen discuss Johnston’s release

BBC Monitoring

Dubai Al-Arabiya Television in Arabic at 1940 gmt on 4 July carries live within its daily "Panorama" programme a panel discussion on the release of British journalist Alan Johnston. To discuss this issue, anchorwoman Muntaha al-Ramahi hosts in the studio Jon Wilks, official spokesman for the British Government; Azzam al-Ahmad, head of the Fatah bloc in the Palestinian Legislative Council, via satellite from Ramallah; and Khalil Abu-Layla, a leading Hamas figure, via satellite from Gaza.

    The programme begins with a three-minute report over video by Hayfa Radi. The report says: "It seems that the controversy over the scenario used to liberate British journalist Alan Johnston from his abductors in the Army of Islam will not be less severe than the controversy over the scenario used to kidnap him. The statements Isma'il Haniyah made in the presence of the liberated journalist sent messages in more than one direction. Most prominent among them is perhaps Haniyah's hint that the release of Johnston did not take place in isolation from the atmosphere provided by Hamas's control of the Gaza Strip after expelling the PLO from it."

    The report adds: "Upon receiving the liberated British journalist in his home, Haniyah did not miss the opportunity to draw the attention of the Israelis to the issue of the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gil'ad Shalit." This is followed by a recording of Haniyah saying: "We hope that in the same way as the case of journalist Alan Johnston was settled, the case of kidnapped Israeli soldier Shalit will be settled within the framework of an honourable deal that secures the release or our hero prisoners."

    The report then says: "The PNA saw in the release scenario an attempt by Hamas to polish its image in the world. The PNA also accused it of involvement in the abduction." PNA Information Minister Riyad al-Maliki is then shown saying: "It is very clear that Hamas is behind the abduction and release of Johnston to use this as a bargaining chip to make political gains." The report then describes how Hamas's Executive Force imposed a security cordon around the area where the journalist was held by his abductors before managing to secure his release.

    Concluding, the report says: "Hamas is expected to reap the fruit of its effort by demonstrating its ability to impose stability in Gaza in order to get out of the state of isolation under which the Gaza Strip is living under its rule."

    The anchorwoman then asks Wilks how the British view Johnston's release. Speaking in Arabic, Wilks says: "The release of Alan Johnston was happy news for Britain - government and people. Second, as British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said this afternoon, we appreciate the efforts of the Palestinian leadership, including Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Isma'il Haniyah, and the campaign in which many groups in Palestine and the Arab world participated. The popular and diplomatic campaign was extremely important. And of course the latest efforts made by Hamas and Fatah were also extremely important. We appreciate these efforts and thank all concerned parties."

    Turning to Azzam al-Ahmad, the anchorwoman asks why Fatah accused Hamas of involvement in the journalist's abduction. Responding, he says: "Actually, I do not know who in Fatah accused Hamas. No official statement was made to this effect. These might have been personal opinions expressed here and there. This is so although we are convinced that the mystery will be solved at the right time." When told that Yasir Abd-Rabbuh made that statement, he says Abd-Rabbuh does not belong to Fatah.

    Continuing, he says: "I stress that there is a mystery and it will be solved in the future. I participated in the final meeting held in Gaza with brother Isma'il Haniyah in the presence of the British consul and Mr David, official in charge of security at the British Consulate. An envoy Isma'il Haniyah sent to the abductors conveyed to us the full picture. We felt from what he said that an ordinary dialogue was going on among friends, but we did not know how. These are religious groups that seem to have their own methods and calculations. It is premature to level accusations or suspicions, but we are very happy that this operation, which offended all Palestinians, is over."

    When told that Johnston was released only after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, Al-Ahmad says "perhaps that is how things were planned." He adds: "Within the context of the special relations linking the abductors to Hamas, it seems that this particular time was chosen to secure the release of Johnston. I repeat that we are very happy for his release."

    Asked if by releasing Johnston Hamas sought to send a message saying security prevailed in the Gaza Strip after Hamas's assumption of power there, and asked about Hamas's position on the Army of Islam, Khalil Abu-Layla says: "The national unity government exerted large efforts to release journalist Alan Johnston, but all efforts failed because a group from the Zionized current in the security agencies foiled all attempts to release the British journalist. Now that these security agencies have ended, the release was secured peacefully. As we all heard from Alan Johnston, he was moved from place to another during the last few days. This means he was in a clear place during the past three months and the security agencies knew where he was but kept him hostage. Today when Hamas managed to control the security situation, the abductors were afraid that Hamas would release him. Therefore, they took the journalist from one place to another. We are happy that we have managed to first provide security to our Palestinian people and then to release the British journalist without shedding a single drop of blood. His abduction was against our religion, norms, and traditions."

    When told that Hamas's Mahmud al-Zahhar said no "resistance faction will be disarmed" and asked if those who abduct journalists belong to the resistance factions, Abu-Layla says: "Certainly no resistance faction will be disarmed, but we must distinguish between a resistance faction and some mistakes that may be made. I believe that the side which kidnapped the British journalist on the insinuation of the defunct security agencies made a mistake. Now that they have become sure that chaos is over and that there is no room for tampering with the security of the Palestinian people, they responded to the honourable appeal made by all Palestinians to release the journalist."

    Turning again to Wilks, the anchorwoman says: "Mr Isma'il Haniyah seized the opportunity of the release of Alan Johnston - and he has the right to do so - to call on the West to lift the siege imposed on the Palestinian people and the Gaza Strip in particular. Will Hamas's success in releasing Alan Johnston help change the attitude towards Hamas?" Responding, Wilks says: "The word siege is inaccurate, but first I would like to say something. Why is all this controversy over this good piece of news? All Palestinian factions played a positive role in this success. There was a popular drive supported by Palestinian journalists, the government, Hamas, and Fatah. This is success for Palestine as a whole. God willing, this will be an opportunity to unite the ranks of the Palestinians. There is absolutely no reason for controversy and division. We in Britain - government and people - encourage the Palestinians to unify their ranks. This is success for all of Palestine. It is for the Palestinian people and leadership, including Hamas and Fatah. All factions condemned the abduction as an unacceptable method in politics in the Arab world or other countries."

    He adds: "Second, the word siege is inaccurate because the humanitarian situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is very pressing, especially after the fighting which erupted during the past few weeks. The international community, Britain, and the EU will do their best to extend the necessary aid to address the obvious and urgent problems of the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank. This means the siege is a political thing or some sort of political propaganda. What is extremely important at present is that the international community should extend humanitarian aid. The Palestinian Government and all factions should participate in unifying the Palestinian ranks on the basis of having one rifle and one law as the Palestinian president said."

    Responding to a question on the existence of two Palestinian governments, Al-Ahmad says: "There is one legitimate government and there is also an illegal coup which should be terminated at the earliest possible time in order to be able to reunify our ranks so that all will be committed to law and order and to the Palestinian national project."
Source: Al-Arabiya TV, Dubai, in Arabic 1940 gmt 4 Jul 07


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