PALESTINE: The Popular Front denies using Sawt al-Shaeb radio against Hamas

In an article in Lebanese Al-Akhbar, a high-profile source disclosed an alleged secret media plan between Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, to confront the media machine of Hamas in Gaza. MENASSAT's Ola Madhoun investigated further, to find the PFLP and the station chairman denied the claims, calling the piece a "media lie."
PFLP denies media agreement with Fatah to undermine Hamas

GAZA, April 07, 2009 (MENASSAT) - An article published on Saturday by Al-Akhbar Lebanese newspaper caused much confusion in the media and in the streets of Palestine. Reporting an alleged agreement between political parties Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the paper said the parties used PFLP-affiliated Sawt al-Shaeb radio station (Voice of the People), as a media platform for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) - while excluding Hamas media outlets in Gaza.

However, both Palestinian Authority and PFLP representatives denied the claims. Some even said the story was not worth commenting on.

“The two factions reached an agreement to turn the radio station affiliated with the Popular Front in Gaza into a station officially affiliated with the PLO, so it would be able to speak in the name of Fatah, which has no working media outlets in the Strip," Al-Akhbar reported.

Fatah lost all of its media institutions and its official Palestine Channel after Hamas took control of the Strip in June 2007. Divisions between the two ruling parties in Palestinian Territories, Hamas and Fatah, have been in place since Hamas won the parliamentary elections in 2006.

The paper also reported that a member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, Ibrahim Abu al-Naja, and Jamal Zaqout, the councilor for defacto Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, acted as mediators between Abbas and the station to provide Sawt al-Shaeb with $25,000 to strengthen its broadcast and allow it to compete with Hamas media outlets.

Al-Akhbar said that Thou al-Faqqar Sawirjo, a member of the Central Committee of the Popular Front, agreed to turn the radio station into a PLO-platform, after consultations with the PFLP leadership in Gaza.

The article also stated that a member of the political bureau of the PFLP and its chair in Gaza, Rabah Mhanna, brought a transmission booster from Cairo after participating in the Cairo dialogue meetings last February.  The price of the booster was $50,000, of which Abbas paid $25,000, the PFLP, $15,000 and the Association to Support the Intifada in Ramallah, 10,000$, the paper reported.

PFLP denies claim

The PFLP, however, denied having such an agreement with Fatah, and said that the station is a free and authentic platform for all of the Palestinian people.

In an interview with MENASSAT, PFLP Chair Mhanna also denied this allegation. “The newspaper which published this article is not decent and its reporter is not decent and could even be an agent,” he told MENASSAT.

“We didn’t collaborate with any party against another. The whole idea about our agreement with Fatah against Hamas is a media lie and doesn’t even deserve a comment.”

Sawirjo, the Chairman of the station, said that no secret or declared agreement was made with Fatah concerning plans to counter Hamas media outlets, or any media activities that would widen the gap between the Palestinians.

“The report is untrue. It consists of gathering some information about the activities of the radio station and featuring them in an erroneous context. Sawt al-Shaeb has a national democratic platform, and everything that was mentioned in the article is a lie.”

Sawirjo added that the only thing that cannot be denied is that the radio station is represented by the PLO, and therefore is a part of it and will never let it down.

“We never took any stands against our people, never supported one party against the other. In fact, we played a big role in bridging the Palestinian divisions. Our station never received any money or financial aid from the parties mentioned in the article, although we received aid from contributors from inside and outside the nation after the coverage of the Gaza war,” he said, referring to the 23 day Israeli attack in December/January that left over 1400 Palestinians dead.

“No one can deny that Sawt al-Shaeb was the most distinguished station in the coverage of the latest Israeli war on Gaza, it encouraged a number of European and Arab countries to provide financial support to the station."

PA calls article "tabloid news"

Sawirjo also said that his station asked for help from different national and independent organizations, "as any other Palestinian organization would."

“No funding will affect our subjectivity and positive impartiality. The higher interest of the Palestinian people is our main criteria in any path the station takes, whether on the internal level or when dealing with the occupation.”

Regarding the transmission booster, Sawirjo confirmed that one had been imported, however, he said it will be used to enhance the transmission, explaining that in a few days Sawt al-Shaeb will reach all of the the West Bank, Israel and even the Jordanian borders and the Sinai.

The Palestinian Authority also denied the allegations. President Councilor Salam Fayad called the article "tabloid news."

Meanwhile, Abbas's councilor Zaqout refused to comment on the article, calling it is "silly and false, and not worth discussing."