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Threats by Hamas prompt Arabic network's shutdown

JERUSALEM -- The Arabic satellite network Al Arabiya ordered its reporters to stop working in the Gaza Strip yesterday after the governing Palestinian Islamist party Hamas attacked the network for blasphemy.

The threats from Hamas against the network highlight the delicate balancing act faced by international Arab networks, which often come under fire from Western governments that accuse their coverage of inflaming tensions in places like Iraq and the Palestinian territories. The networks have come under attack from Arab governments as well; the Iraqi government has repeatedly suspended Al Jazeera after the network aired stories unfavorable to the Shi'ite-dominated government.

Al Arabiya drew the wrath of Hamas after airing a recording that quoted Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh saying that Hamas "will not accept conditional aid, even if it came from God."

Hamas officials told Al Arabiya not to air the quote, which reportedly came from a Palestinian Cabinet meeting. The Dubai-based network instead aired the quote along with a denial by a Hamas spokesman.

In response, the Palestinian government threatened to sue Arabiya. "It is a clear and deliberate defamation," government spokesman Ghazi Hamad said.

Al Arabiya's director of operations in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Nidal Hasan, said he had ordered the 42 employees in the station's Gaza bureau to stay home after receiving death threats from anonymous gunmen. "There are some people who might wrongly attack us," Hasan said.

Hasan has refused to apologize for airing the statement.

"We did nothing wrong," he said. "We did our jobs as we should, getting comments on the tape from both sides."

Palestine Press, a local news agency linked to a Fatah leader, Mohammed Dahlan, leaked the tape of what it said was a Jan. 10 Cabinet meeting. In a statement, the Fatah faction excoriated the Hamas government for attacking the network.

"Hamas has lost its balance by making such crazy threats against Al Arabiya and its employees in Gaza," the statement said, describing the threats as "reflecting the spirit of darkness against local, Arab, and international media organizations."