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Arafat Faces Criticism from Within on His Closing of Opposition Daily

Yasser Arafat is facing his first challenge from within the ranks of the Palestine Liberation Organization for what his critics have called his high-handed closure of the An-Nahar Arabic daily, published in eastern Jerusalem.

His critics include traditional allies as well as some members of the Muslim fundamentalist group Hamas.

Arafat’s move has been seen as a way to oppose Jordan’s recent pact with Israel, which he views as usurping his authority. An-Nahar is a pro-Jordanian publication. The ban is also being viewed as Arafat’s way to control the Palestinian press.

The ban was enforced by the new Palestinian police force. Arafat said the reason for the closure was that the paper was being published without a license.

Some members of the Palestinian Authority, the governing body in the Palestinian autonomous areas, have threatened to resign if the press freedom issue is not resolved.

The editor of the paper, Othman Halak, said Monday that the Palestinian police had banned An-Nahar’s distribution everywhere, not only in the Gaza Strip and Jericho autonomous areas.

Arafat’s critics are being supported by human rights organizations and 35 journalists, who signed a petition against the ban.

Bassam Eid, chief field worker at B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization established to monitor Israeli army activities during the Palestinian uprising, called on foreign donor countries to withhold foreign aid to the Palestinians until the paper is reopened.

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