BEIRUT, Lebanon – The Al-Jazeera satellite television network announced on Tuesday it had canceled an interview with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The Arab world's best-known broadcaster cited Israeli "technical conditions" in announcing the cancellation.
The announcement coincided, however, with a protest outside Al-Jazeera's Arab League summit office where demonstrating journalists presented a petition against the interview. Among the crowd of about 100 reporters, most were thought to be there to cover the protest.
The petition, signed by 148 of the 2,300 accredited summit journalists, condemned Al-Jazeera for planning to interview "the Zionist criminal Ariel Sharon, killer of Arab women, children and the elderly."
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo wrote to Al-Jazeera also asking the interview be canceled, saying Sharon did not deserve the honor of appearing on the well-respected Qatar-based network.
"We appreciate Al-Jazeera's role, and despite our consideration for the freedom of the press and freedom of opinion, it is not justified for a prominent Arab satellite channel to interview Sharon," Rabbo's statement said.
The Al-Jazeera announcer who read out news of the cancellation said: "It appears that the policy of dictates and conditions is stewed in Sharon's mentality, not only in dealing with politics but also with the media," the announcer said.
Sharon is reviled in Lebanon for his role in the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps during Israel's occupation of Beirut. An Israeli commission of inquiry later found him indirectly responsible, and he had to resign as defense minister.
"I don't think it is appropriate that he, a war criminal, be given a chance to appear on an Arab media platform," said Abdelsalam Akel, a Palestinian journalist among the group who put together the petition.
Zeinab Sharafeddine, a Lebanese journalist who said she signed the petition by mistake thinking it was an office attendance sheet, called an interview with Sharon on the eve of the Arab summit a "scoop."
"As much as I hate Sharon, I don't find it strange or wrong that he be on Al Jazeera," she said.
Despite the cancellation, Said Al-Shouli, head of Al Jazeera's summit team, said he regretted his colleagues' protest and said the satellite network believed in freedom of expression.
"Perhaps nobody hates Sharon as much as I do, but this is news. I don't think it's wrong," he told The Associated Press.
Al-Shouli said Al Jazeera had interviewed other Israeli prime ministers in the past, including Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres.