Thursday, January 12, 2006

Hamas TV Station Could Have 'Significant Impact,' Expert Says


In the run-up to Palestinian Authority elections, Hamas has launched a local television station in the Gaza Strip with the aim of developing a satellite television network, a move one expert says could strengthen the impact of Hamas in the area.

Hamas, which is sworn to the destruction of the State of Israel, has killed hundreds of Israelis and some Americans in deadly suicide bombings and terrorist attacks during the last 10 years.

The group could make a strong showing in upcoming Palestinian parliamentary elections, and Hamas officials have indicated that if that is the case and they become part of the Palestinian Authority government, they would cut all negotiations with Israel.

The station -- Al Aksa Television -- is the first private station in Gaza and is named after the mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem -- the third holiest site in Islam and a rallying point for Palestinians in their fight against Israel.

Thus far, the television station has shown only short broadcasts of readings of the Koran, but it is intended to spread Hamas' political and Islamic ideology to challenge "the Western culture that has invaded our territory," senior Hamas official Fathi Hammad was quoted by Reuters as saying. But Hammad said the goal is to one day have a satellite station.

Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev noted that there is already a precedent for a terrorist organization to have a television station: Hizballah's satellite station Al-Manar based in Lebanon. "Unfortunately what we've seen with these media outlets is that they are propaganda organs for terrorist organizations. They churn out the most hateful propaganda," said Regev.

The U.S, European Union, Canada, Australia and Japan all consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization, Regev said. United Nations Security Council resolution 1373 calls upon all members of the U.N. not to allow terrorist groups to operate in their territory and not to give them a safe haven. Regev questioned whether both the Lebanese government and the P.A. were not violating the resolution by allowing Hizballah and Hamas to operate.

Another Israeli official said that the station would not be important. It will only be a tool for Hamas to use to spread its propaganda. It will not take into consideration journalistic ethics, the official said.

But Yigal Carmon, who heads the independent Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) said it was "absolutely significant" that Hamas had begun broadcasting even though now it is only a local station. "It will strengthen the impact [of Hamas] significantly. Now they are doing it to improve their chances in the elections. It's only local," said Carmon, contacted in Jerusalem. But if it becomes a satellite station, like Al-Manar, it will have a much greater impact. It would influence people the way television influences people everywhere, he said.

Al-Manar is run by the Iranian-backed Hizballah. It promotes anti-American, anti-Christian and anti-Jewish sentiments and carries some of the worst anti-Semitic broadcasting in the region, said Carmon. They report in the style of Western networks "from everywhere," he said, even from the U.S. occasionally. "They have an image of being efficient, authoritative ... because they work professionally."