* Armed men damage Reuters bureau, enter CNN, NHK offices
* Raid came after Reuters filmed Gaza protest rally
* Ruling Hamas condemns violence, says makes arrests
GAZA, March 19 Several armed men entered
Reuters' office in Gaza on Saturday, threatened employees with
guns and took away a video camera, apparently after they spotted
a reporter filming a demonstration from the building.
The men struck one Reuters journalist on the arm with a
metal bar and threatened to throw another out of the window of
the high-rise block. The group, which numbered about 10 men,
smashed a television set and other equipment before leaving.
The same group, several of whom were carrying pistols, also
forcibly entered the nearby offices of U.S. broadcaster CNN and
the Japanese station NHK. They seized videotape at NHK.
The men told Reuters journalists that they came from the
internal security services of Hamas, the Islamist group which
governs the Palestinian enclave, but they showed no documents.
A senior official of Hamas condemned the violence and denied
that the group was involved in the attack:
"Initial information shows these men were not from the
government. We have arrested some of them and we are going to
interrogate them and see who they were acting for," Interior
Minister Fathi Hammad told reporters.
He added that he had told all security services to treat
journalists with respect and prevent attacks on them.
Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler said: "We are
extremely concerned at this unwarranted assault on our staff and
urge the authorities to ensure that journalists can work freely
in Gaza." The Reuters staff attacked were Palestinian.
The violence flared shortly after uniformed Hamas security
forces broke up a small rally which had been called to call for
Palestinian unity and reconciliation between Hamas and President
Mahmoud Abbas's rival Fatah group.
Reuters had filmed a journalist from the Associated Press
being detained at the protest. The man was later released, AP
After the attack on the Reuters newsroom, more than 100
Palestinian journalists staged a sit-in in the street in Gaza to
condemn the violence and to demand a full investigation.
It was the second time in a week that media organisations
have came under attack in Gaza. Witnesses said security forces
beat photographers and cameramen on Tuesday as they tried to
film another Palestinian unity rally in the city.
The Foreign Press Association, which represents journalists
in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories, condemned the
March 15 crackdown: "This is the latest in a string of chilling
attacks on reporters in Gaza," it said in a statement.
Hamas denied accusations that it was responsible for the
violence, blaming the assault on "different youth groups".
Hamas won parliamentary elections in the Palestinian
Territories in 2006 and seized control of the Gaza Strip 18
months later after a brief civil war with Abbas's movement.
Fatah controls the nearby West Bank and numerous attempts to
reconcile the two Palestinian factions have failed.
(Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)