Threat to Europeans over 'hostile' Mohamed cartoons
By Donald Macintyre in Gaza and John Lichfield in
Published: 03 February 2006
As the European press asserted its right to publish
hostile cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed, anger in the
Arab world reached boiling point in Gaza where gunmen
converged on European Union offices and gave the
Danish, Norwegian, French and German governments 48
hours to apologise.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, a German citizen was
seized - and later released - after armed militants
roamed hotels threatening to kidnap nationals of
European countries in which the cartoons - one of
which shows the Prophet wearing a turban in the shape
of a bomb with a burning fuse - have been published.
Newspapers in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and the
Netherlands reprinted one or more of the Danish
cartoons that have caused the storm.
Yesterday's incidents prompted the EU to review the
security of its representatives in the occupied
Palestinian territories, where armed militants warned
the staff at its Technical Assistance Office in Gaza
City that they were demanding that all French citizens
"Any citizen of these countries [that printed the
cartoon] who are present in Gaza will put themselves
in danger," a gunman in a Fatah-linked armed unit said
at the site. On the doors of the closed office,
graffiti left by the gunmen - signed by Kattab
al-Yasser, an armed group within the Fatah-linked
al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the Soraya al-Quds armed
wing of the ultra-militant Islamic Jihad - declared:
"Closed until they apologise to the Muslims."
Two EU officials from Denmark have not gone to work
for the past two days at its monitoring mission
covering the Rafah crossing from southern Gaza into
At the Qasr hotel in Nablus, Awad Hamdan, the manager,
said gunmen demanded to know if any German, French,
Danish or Norwegian guests were staying. Mr Hamdan
said he told the gunmen there were no guests from
those countries. He said the gunmen warned him not to
accept such guests and told him they would be abducted
if he did.
Denmark and Norway announced they were temporarily
closing their representative offices in the West Bank
administrative centre of Ramallah. Rolf Holmboe, the
head of the Danish office, said shots had been fired
at it but no one had been hurt.
Ahmed Qureia, the outgoing Palestinian Prime Minister
and a leading figure in the Fatah "old guard",
condemned the caricatures, saying they " provoke all
Muslims everywhere in the world". While asking gunmen
not to attack foreigners, he added: "But we warn that
emotions may flare in this very sensitive issue."
Mahmoud Zahar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, visited a
group of Christian nuns and clerics yesterday at the
Holy Family School to reassure them after the Latin
Church, a small congregation based in Jerusalem, had
also received threats. He unequivocally condemned the
threats against foreign nationals. " We are not
accepting any aggression against foreign institutions
whether EU or American, or against any other group,
foreign or Palestinian," Dr Zahar said. He said some
Palestinians had already boycotted Danish goods and
Hamas wanted them to continue protesting by "legal
He told the Christian group "you are our brothers who
live side by side with us along with the foreigners
who come to serve this community". He said that
Hamas's armed wing would offer protection for the
Christians until such time as an incoming Hamas
government could reform the security services and
provide official security.
Earlier, Manuel Mussalam, a priest of the Latin Church
in Gaza, delivered an emotional appeal to Dr Zahar
after the church received a fax that he said had come
from "Fatah gunmen and the Soraya al-Quds". He said: "
They threatened our churches in Gaza. We will not be
threatened. We are Christians, yes, but Palestinians
Khadr Habib, an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza, insisted
that the faction was against targeting "foreign
guests" but warned that the situation could move "out
of control" because of anger at the cartoons. He said:
"Talking as a Muslim, this is very bad. The Prophet
Mohamed is a red line. I am very surprised that the
Danish government did not attack the publication of
He added that he was also surprised that other
European governments had not apologised for the
publication. "Islam respects all other religions," he
The spiral of publication and outraged response seems
set to continue as European newspapers waded into the
row by reprinting many of the cartoons.
Others took the approach of the French centre-left
newspaper, Le Monde, which published a large,
front-page sketch of a pencil writing over and over
the words: "I must not draw Mohamed". Plantu, the
newspaper's award-winning cartoonist, made the words
spiral into a striking portrait of a turbanned man
with a flowing beard.
Utter confusion, meanwhile, surrounded the decision of
the struggling French tabloid newspaper France-Soir to
publish all 12 Danish cartoons on Wednesday. The
newspaper's proprietor, Raymond Lakah, a
Franco-Egyptian businessman, fired France-Soir's
publisher and editor, Jacques Lefranc, for printing
the drawings and issued a public apology to Muslims.
However, his newspaper devoted the first four pages
yesterday to congratulating itself on its defence of
democracy, press freedom and "secularity" against "
religious intolerance and censorship".
France-Soir made no mention of M. Lefranc's dismissal,
which some executives claimed was related to M.
Lakah's bid to dispose of the bankrupt newspaper.
How the European press covered the controversy
The editor of France-Soir, the tabloid daily that
published all 12 cartoons, was fired yesterday as the
paper's Franco-Egyptian proprietor issued an apology
to the country's Muslim population. No other French
publication has featured the cartoons, but Le Monde
illustrated its coverage with a front page
illustration of the words: "I must not draw Mohammed."
The country that sparked the furore in September when
the newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons
featuring Mohamed hassummoned its foreign envoys for
talks on dealing with the crisis. "We are talking
about an issue with fundamental significance to how
democracies work," said the Danish Prime Minister,
Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Sales of Danish goods in the
Middle East have collapsed.
The staunchly conservative Die Welt published one of
the most controversial Danish cartoons, showing
Mohamed with a turban shaped like a bomb, topped by a
hissing fuse. "There is no right to be shielded from
satire in the West," wrote the paper. The Berliner
Zeitung featured the cartoons on its news pages.
Two newspapers, El Periodico and ABC, have published
the cartoons, arguing that press freedom is more
important than the protests and boycotts which the
cartoons are provoking across the Muslim world.
Corriere della Serra and La Stampa newspapers
published the cartoon depicting the Prophet wearing a
The Dutch paper De Volkskrant reprinted some of the
offending cartoons over two pages. The paper also
interviewed Dutch cartoonists, not all of whom were
willing to support the move. "Why throw oil on the
fire?" asked one cartoonists, Joep Bertrams.
The story so far
30 SEPTEMBER 2005: The 12 cartoons are published in
Danish paper Jyllands-Posten
20 OCTOBER: The Danish Prime Minister hears complaints
from 11 countries but he refuses to intervene
10 JANUARY 2006: Magazinet in Norway reprints the
28 JANUARY: After a boycott, the Danish-Swedish firm
Arla appeases Muslims with adverts in Middle East
29 JANUARY: Saudi Arabia calls for a boycott of Danish
goods and orders its envoy back from Copenhagen. Libya
says that it will close its Danish embassy
30 JANUARY: Editor of Jyllands-Posten apologises.
Gunmen storm EU's offices in Gaza
31 JANUARY: Denmark tells citizens not to go to Saudi
1 FEBRUARY: Seven papers in Europe republish cartoons
in solidarity with Jyllands-Posten
YESTERDAY: Shihan in Jordan reprints cartoons to show
"extent of the offence". Gaza gunmen reoccupy EU
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