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Pan-Arab TV coverage of Gaza events

BBC Monitoring

Analysis by Amani Soliman of BBC Monitoring,

    The events in Gaza dominated the coverage of the pan-Arab satellite channels, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, between 11-16 June.

    On 11 June, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya were busy with the Shura Council elections in Egypt, which took up most of their air time.

    Only Iranian Arabic-language Al-Alam TV began carrying news of another truce between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza, amid reports of gunfire at the Palestinian government's headquarters. The early reports were short and included live links with the correspondents in the area.

    However, on 12 June, Al-Jazeera interviewed its Gaza correspondent for reaction on reports of an attack on Palestinian Prime Minister Isma'il Haniyah's house. In its 1800 gmt newscast, Al-Jazeera carried a 3-minute package on clashes between Fatah and Hamas elements causing the death of 11 people amid numerous calls for calm.

    The video footage showed scenes of armed militants running around the streets of Gaza and segments of a statement by the Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas. It also carried footage of a statement by the Palestinian Government's spokesperson on the firing at the government's building in Gaza, during a cabinet session.

Increase in coverage

    The volume of the coverage of the unfolding events increased dramatically.

    The factional infighting in Gaza dominated the top spot in the newscasts of the pan-Arab TV stations.

     Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera started the day's coverage by flagging up the accusations made by Fatah against Hamas of "plotting a coup" against the government.

    Later in the day, the threat by Fatah to pull out from the national unity government was highlighted by the channels.

    Furthermore, Al-Jazeera carried voxpops on the streets of Gaza in which one man said the factional divisions had become a "burden on the Palestinian people". The bullet-proof press-labelled jacket worn by the Gaza correspondents was an indication of the tense security. In a live dispatch, a Ramallah correspondent said there was a fear of a "spill over of violence to other parts of the Palestinian territories."

    As the story unfolded there was a consensus in the coverage of the pan-Arab channels that the factional clashes in the Palestinian territories are a "tragedy" or even a "farce", because Palestinians were supposed to direct their weapons towards their "enemies" instead of fighting each other; and that such infighting "does not serve the Palestinian cause".

    Against a background of Palestinian demonstrators confronting gunmen in the streets of Gaza, Al-Arabiya interviewed an Islamic Jihad official who referred to the infighting as part of "an Israeli plan to divide West Bank and Gaza into two cantons".

    In a studio interview, an Al-Jazeera interviewee blamed the Palestinian leadership for the deteriorating security situation.

    With the rising death toll in the Gaza clashes, the pan-Arab channels allocated most of their live coverage to this story. Al-Jazeera had little time for any other news. On the morning of 13 June, the 0400 gmt newscast started with the death toll, followed by a call by the Palestinian premier for the resumption of a dialogue with Fatah, then Fatah's quitting of the unity government until the fighting stopped, followed by Israel's announcement of a new Labour Party leader.

    At the same time, Al-Arabiya started with Fatah's threats to quit the unity government if the fighting persisted and only came to the Gaza rising death toll and fighting three stories later.

In-depth analysis

    On the evening of 13 June, Al-Jazeera devoted its daily "Today's Harvest" discussion spot to the story.

    A 15-minute report on the infighting in the Gaza Strip was shown before the discussion started. It featured three separate interviews with Major General Burhan Hammad, head of the Egyptian security delegation in the Gaza Strip, via telephone from Gaza; Usama Hamdan, Hamas representative in Lebanon, via satellite from Beirut; and Husayn al-Shaykh, Fatah secretary in the West Bank, via satellite from Ramallah.

    The escalating fighting in Gaza was reported widely on 14 June, with an equal amount of indignation over what they described as the "fight amongst brothers".

    In a satellite interview on Al-Arabiya, a Hamas official said any such troops would be treated as an "occupying force".

    Al-Jazeera, for its part, aired footage from Al-Aqsa TV (Hamas-run TV) of the Hamas take over operation in Gaza and stressed that the Mecca agreement had become "redundant" and that Israel was "pleased" to watch the Palestinians fighting each other.

    On 15 June, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya carried part of a news conference by the military wing of Hamas calling for the immediate release of BBC reporter Alan Johnston.

    Both channels avoided directly blaming either party for the current stand-off. They also interviewed officials from both Hamas and Fatah.

    Al-Arabiya reported on Hamas's "victory" over Fatah in Gaza and reported that Hamas's supporters were celebrating "a victory" against "their brothers in Fatah".

    The Gaza correspondent said in a live report that civilians had "paid the price" for the infighting. A member of Fatah told the channel that the Palestinian flag had been replaced by Hamas's flag over public buildings in Gaza.

    Al-Jazeera reported that the current infighting was harming Palestinians' aspiration for an independent sate. The channel said that the struggle between Abbas and Haniyah had reached its peak and that it was bound to "spill over" to neighbouring countries.

    It said that the Arab countries had two choices: either to look at the issue from a Palestinian interest angle or from a US "viewpoint", which sees the current struggle as essentially one between moderation and extremism. The channel lamented the weak support by the Arab countries for their own peace initiative with Israel.

Statements, press conferences

    Both satellites carried live the press conferences held by Hamas and Fatah officials, not only from the Palestinian territories, but also from other capitals including Cairo and Damascus.

    Those included Hamas leader Khalid Misha'l speaking from Damascus on 15 June saying that the international community was primarily responsible for the current Palestinian crisis.

    On 16 June, another Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhum, called for Arab and Islamic support for the Palestinian national unity government. In a statement to Al-Jazeera, Barhum said the Hamas-led government is giving first priority to establishing security in the territories.

    Similarly, in statements to Al-Jazeera, Usama Hamdan, the representative of Hamas in Lebanon, welcomed a decision by the Arab foreign ministers to form a fact-finding committee on the Gaza events.

    It is worth noting that Al-Jazeera carried live the swearing-in ceremony of the new Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad in Ramallah, to replace the government led by Hamas.

    Shortly after, Al-Jazeera carried a statement by Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, rejecting the new government and describing it as "illegal".

    Source: BBC Monitoring research on 20 Jun 07



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