First pro-Hamas Palestinian Newspaper Launched in Gaza Strip

Roughly 10,000 copies of 'Palestine' to be distributed in Gaza, W. Bank; other PA media controlled by Fatah.

Palestinian supporters of Hamas launched their first newspaper on Thursday, opening a new front in the battle for political dominance with the rival Fatah faction.

"Palestine" is the pro-Islamist answer to the three largest Palestinian newspapers which have longstanding ties to Fatah, the secular faction of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

It is also the first Palestinian newspaper to be printed in the Gaza Strip. The other newspapers are produced in the West Bank, which is dominated by Fatah.

"Palestine" will initially print an estimated 10,000 copies, published separately in the West Bank and Gaza to avoid any possible Israeli restriction on its distribution.

Editor-in-chief Mustafa Assawaf said the paper's owners were close to Hamas, which heads a unity government with Fatah.

But Assawaf said the paper would not be a mouthpiece for the Islamist group, whose charter calls for Israel's destruction.

"We say that the newspaper will be for all Palestinians and we will leave judgment to the readers," he told Reuters. "It will not be a newspaper of one faction. It will be as its name suggests, 'Palestine' for all Palestinians."

First editions of the paper went on sale in Gaza on Thursday, published in tabloid format, with a news section as well as culture and sports supplements.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas attended a ceremony to mark the newspaper's launch on Wednesday.

Haniyeh, who has sharply criticized pro-Fatah news coverage in the past, urged the owners of "Palestine" to "maintain accuracy, neutrality and objectivity."

"I am full of hope that our Palestinian people can look into your newspapers and see themselves, see their hopes and their ambitions," Haniyeh said, calling the media a "dangerous and effective weapon."

Hamas, which has long complained about Fatah's domination of the Palestinian newspapers, radio and television networks, launched its own television network late last year in response.

Abbas controls the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation, which includes television and radio.