On 10 February 2008, a Hamas-affiliated court in Gaza banned the distribution and publication of Al-Ayyam newspaper, a major Palestinian daily, for publishing a cartoon seen as offensive to lawmakers affiliated to the movement.
Al-Ayyam, printed in the West Bank, has close ties to the Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas. The court decision, which came in response to a complaint by Hamas lawmakers, also included suspended jail sentences for the cartoonist and the editor-in-chief of the paper, although both are based in the West Bank.
The newspaper criticized the ruling, warning it would worsen the situation in the Palestinian territories. Hamas, on the other hand, insisted that the decision was taken on a legal basis and politics played no role in it.
On 11 February, Al-Ayyam pointed out that the cartoon, published on 8 November 2007, portrayed all Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) members as replicas of the same person, in reference to the session which was held at the time in Gaza and attended only by pro-Hamas lawmakers.
The paper added that it had issued a clarification afterwards, saying that the cartoon did not intend any "personal insult to anyone", and was meant to say that the session held in Gaza was "of one colour".
Commenting on the court decision, Abd-al-Nasir al-Najjar of Al-Ayyam told Reuters: "This is a silencing policy from Hamas and this will enhance the separation between the West Bank and Gaza."
The cartoonist, Baha Bukhari, also stood by the cartoon. "I have a position. (Hamas) harmed the Palestinian cause," he told the Associated Press by telephone.
Hamas defends court decision
For its part, Hamas insisted that the court decision was purely legal. "The decision was taken by the court because the published cartoon was aimed against the legislative council and this is a violation of the publishing law," Hassan Abu Hashish, the head of the Hamas government press office, told the French news agency AFP.
"The legislative council made a legal complaint and the decision was issued in accordance with legal, not political, considerations," he added.
The suspension of the paper comes amidst a continued standoff between the two factions after Hamas seized control of Gaza nearly eight months ago. Journalists have been involved in the tit-for-tat acts of retaliation ever since.
In January 2008, Hamas accused Fatah of "assassinating" two Palestinian journalists.
In a separate incident, a journalist working for the Al-Hayat al-Jadidah office in the Gaza Strip had been held in Hamas police custody for 21 days, before he was released on 4 February after PLC Speaker Ahmad Bahr called for his release.
According to the pro-Hamas Palestinian Information Centre, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri recently criticized "a media campaign" led by "some holding poisonous pens" to harm Hamas and "tarnish its image".
Source: BBC Monitoring research 11 Feb 08