Gaza Journos Protest Violence Against Media

Journalists briefly occupied the Palestinian legislative building in Gaza on Sunday to protest a series of mysterious attacks on reporters.

The some 200 Palestinian protesters marched into the empty legislative building and occupied the vacant seats of the chairman and other assembly members. The journalists also refused to report on the Palestinian security services, and interior and justice ministries until the government responded to their concerns.

The protesters left the building several hours later after a top aide to Yasser Arafat (search) said the Palestinian leader is committed to finding who was behind the violence. "President Arafat will follow up on all attacks on journalists," said the aide, Tayeb Abdel Rahim (search).

Tawfik Abu Khosa, chairman of the Gaza branch of the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate (search), said his group decided to postpone the protest until early next week "to give the Palestinian Authority the chance to implement the promises that we heard."

Anti-government protests are rare in the Palestinian areas, especially by journalists. Most local media are either owned or funded by the Palestinian Authority.

The group launched the protest after a string of attacks on journalists, most recently the burning of the car of Munir Abu Rezk, the Gaza bureau chief of the Al Hayat Al Jadida newspaper.

It was unclear why Abu Rezk, who wasn't hurt, was targeted. The daily newspaper is owned by Nabil Amr, a former Palestinian Cabinet minister, and is close to the Palestinian Authority.

Earlier this month, furniture and equipment were destroyed at the offices of the independent weekly magazine al-Dar. In January, the Gaza correspondent of the al-Arabiya satellite channel was severely beaten in a Gaza street after leaving work.

No arrests have been made in any of the cases, and the targets have said they don't know why they were attacked. The violence may be linked to growing lawlessness in the Palestinian areas or to internal rivalries between Palestinian leaders.

In other developments, Palestinian Authority officials confirmed the sale of their 35 percent stake in Jawal, the local cellular telephone monopoly, for $43 million. The shares were sold back to the majority owner, Paltel, the publicly traded Palestinian telecommunications company, said Maher Masri, the minister of economy and trade.

The government had received the shares several years ago in return for an operating license.

The sale brought some much-needed cash to the Palestinian Authority, which is in the midst of a financial crisis. International donors have shown reluctance to continue sending aid to the Palestinian Authority, citing corruption.

Meeting a key donor demand, the Palestinians announced plans on Saturday to pay security personnel directly into their personal bank accounts.

In the past, lump sums of cash were given to commanders who then distributed it to their men — raising concerns among donors of possible corruption.

In an overnight raid, the Israeli army arrested two members of the militant Al-Aqsa Brigades at a home near the West Bank town of Jenin, Palestinian residents said Sunday. One of the militants, 28-year-old Ashraf Farhat, lived at the home, the residents said.

They said the Israeli army later demolished the house. The army did not comment.

Meanwhile, about 100 settlers from the Gaza Strip began a four-day march to Jerusalem to protest Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's proposal to dismantle virtually all Israeli settlements in Gaza.

Sharon recently made the proposal as part of his plan to unilaterally separate Israelis and Palestinians. The emerging plan would also include the dismantling of isolated settlements in the West Bank and imposing a new boundary on the Palestinians.