RAMALLAH, West Bank, (AP) – Palestinian authorities on Sunday allowed Al-Jazeera to resume operations in the West Bank, four days after banning the Arab satellite station over a report linking President Mahmoud Abbas to the death of his legendary predecessor, Yasser Arafat.
Correspondent Walid al-Omari said he received a phone call from Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad informing him of the decision.
But Al-Omari said Fayyad told him his government would still press ahead with a lawsuit against the Qatar-based station for alleged incitement.
Last week, an Al-Jazeera talk show hosted an exiled official in Abbas’ Fatah movement who alleged the Palestinian leader played a role in the death of Arafat in 2004.
The official, Farouk Kaddoumi, a longtime rival of Abbas, did not present evidence. The incident exacerbated existing tensions between the station and Abbas’ Palestinian government, which has long complained that Al-Jazeera sides with its political rivals, the Islamic militants of Hamas.
On Wednesday, the day of the decision, Al-Jazeera employees were seen frantically piling files into black garbage bags and carrying them out with video cameras, computers and other equipment before Palestinian security officials closed the office. Al-Jazeera’s Qatar headquarters issued a statement saying the station “has maintained strict, professional journalistic standards.”
The Palestinian Authority initially planned on suspending the station’s operations while the lawsuit was pending, government official Jamal Zakout said Sunday, but then decided against it, “so it would not be understood that there would be tightening of freedoms because that was not the goal.”
At midmorning Sunday, it was not immediately clear whether the station had resumed West Bank operations.
In shutting Al-Jazeera down, Abbas risked picking a fight with one of the most potent shapers of Arab public opinion.
For Al-Jazeera, the Arab world’s most popular news station, the brief closure represented only the latest clash with a Middle Eastern government. Iraq has expelled it and Saudi Arabia only let it resume work recently after a long ban. Israel has often clashed with the station, but allows it to operate freely.
The 75-year-old Arafat fell violently ill in October 2004 at his West Bank compound. He was transferred to a French hospital where he died several weeks later.
Palestinian leaders have never given a definitive cause of death, and many Palestinians accused Israel of poisoning Arafat. Israel denies the allegations.