Ali Sawafta
January 26, 2011 - 1:00am

Armed men damaged a studio used by Al Jazeera television in the West Bank on Wednesday, witnesses said, linking the attack to the channel's coverage of documents that have embarrassed Palestinian leaders.

Four men carrying guns arrived at the studio in Nablus, operated by the Palestinian media company Palmedia, after Al Jazeera had used it to broadcast a live interview with a critic of the President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority (PA).

A studio employee said the men had asked for the whereabouts of the interviewee, university lecturer Abdel Sattar Qassem. When told he had left, they smashed a computer, a fax machine, a camera and a window.

Al Jazeera has drawn strong criticism from Palestinian officials this week for its coverage of what it says are the leaked minutes of peace talks with Israeli officials.

The documents, which Al Jazeera has called the "Palestine Papers", show Palestinian officials offering big concessions in negotiations on issues such as the fate of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees in past rounds of peace talks.

Palestinians involved in the talks have said that some of the information released by Al Jazeera reflects the truth and other elements have been misrepresented or are totally false.

They have accused Qatar, the Gulf emirate where Al Jazeera is based, of standing behind a "smear campaign" designed to undermine Abbas. Qatar has ties to Hamas, the Islamist group which seized the Gaza Strip from Abbas's Authority in 2007.


Abbas loyalists tried to break into Al Jazeera's studios in the West Bank administrative centre of Ramallah this week. There was also a demonstration against the channel in Jericho.

Palestinian officials, who in 2009 briefly banned Al Jazeera from operating during a similar row, say the channel has hyped up the content. They fault it for not consulting them on the documents' authenticity before first broadcasting on Sunday.

On Tuesday, Al Jazeera released a document it said seemed to show Abbas's former interior minister cooperating with a request from Israel to kill a Palestinian militant in the Gaza Strip.

In the document dating to 2005, Shaul Mofaz, then Israeli defence minister, is quoted asking his Palestinian counterpart Nasr Youssef, why PA forces had not killed Hassan Madhoun. A month later, Madhoun was killed in an Israeli airstrike.

According to the document, which Al Jazeera said was handwritten, Youssef said he had given "instructions".

Appearing on Al Jazeera, Youssef produced what he said were official minutes of his meeting to challenge the broadcaster's account. Mofaz did not ask why the Palestinians had not killed Madhoun, Youssef said, but why they failed to detain him. In written Arabic, "detain" and "kill" can look similar.

"The difference between the two documents is what was falsified and misrepresented," Youssef said, adding that Madhoun had indeed been detained by the Palestinian Authority after the meeting for his own safety. He then escaped, he added.


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