CPJ alarmed by gunfire outside Gaza news buildings

Palestinian Hamas militants stand guard in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, 17 May 2007. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

New York, 16 May 2007 - The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned that the safety of dozens of journalists was endangered by heavy factional fighting today around two Gaza City buildings housing several news organizations.

According to CPJ sources and international news reports, Fatah gunmen took over the roofs of the Shawa and Hosari Tower - which houses the Ramattan news agency, the BBC, and Al-Jazeera, among other media outlets - and Al-Johara Tower - which houses the Turkish Ihlas News Agency, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, and other media outlets. The gunmen clashed with Hamas fighters on the ground outside the building, trapping the journalists in the middle of heavy shooting. The BBC, relying on its correspondent inside the Shawa and Hosari Tower, reported the same scenario.

Shahdi al-Kashif, managing editor of Ramattan, told CPJ the clashes broke out around 6 p.m. local time. About 40 journalists in the Shawa and Hosari Tower congregated in Ramattan’s offices on the ninth floor, he said, adding that the building sustained extensive damage and vehicles belonging to the journalists were destroyed. In a subsequent telephone interview, al-Kashif told CPJ that the clashes had subsided by midnight and journalists had returned to their offices.

Mohamed Edwan, a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking from the West Bank, disputed reports that Fatah gunmen were firing from the building’s roof.

“Journalists and the buildings that house their offices should not be targets,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We are greatly alarmed that our colleagues in Gaza City were trapped in their bureaus by factional fighting. We call on all sides to respect the safety of the media.”

Clashes between Fatah and Hamas factions broke out on Sunday over control of the security forces, the BBC reported. According to The Associated Press, 41 people have died in the last four days of fighting. Fatah and Hamas called a truce tonight, according to news reports.

Among the dead is a journalist for the Hamas-affiliated Web site Palestine Live, Issam Mohammad Awad al-Joujou, 22, who was killed by gunmen in Gaza City while on his way to cover clashes Tuesday evening, according to a statement issued by Palestine Live and the Palestinian Journalist Block, a committee run by Palestinian journalists.

And in another incident, Osama Abu Musameh, a journalist for the Islamist weekly Al-Risala, was wounded in the right leg after he was stopped at a security barrier on his way home from work Tuesday afternoon, the paper’s top editor, Wisam Afeefa, told CPJ. Musameh was in stable condition at Gaza City’s Al-Shifa Hospital today.

On May 13, a journalist and a media worker for the Hamas-affiliated daily Palestine were fatally shot in Gaza City.

CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit http://www.cpj.org

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