Interim Palestinian leader Mah-moud Abbas has ordered a halt to anti-Israel incitement in government-controlled media, officials said on Tuesday, meeting a key Israeli demand and adding to the new signs of goodwill that have emerged since the death of Yasser Arafat.
Israel has long complained of incitement in the Palestinian media, citing fiery anti-Israel broadcasts by Muslim preachers and programs praising the killing of Jews. It held Arafat, who died on Nov. 11, responsible for the objectionable content.
Radwan Abu Ayyash, head of Palestinian radio and television, said he has instructed all of his department heads, at the request of Abbas, not to broadcast offensive material.
"Abu Mazen asked us to be sure that the material we broadcast does not contain any material that could be considered incitement," he said, referring to Abbas by his nickname. Officials said the new instructions were given last week.
Israeli officials welcomed the development but said they were waiting to see actual changes in the Palestinian media.
"If we see a reduction in incitement, this will indeed be a positive signal," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.
Late Tuesday, gunmen in a taxi shot and killed Nasser Badawi, 37, a Fatah political leader in the Balata refugee camp next to the West Bank city of Nablus, Palestinian security officials said. It was not known who the gunmen were. Israel said it had no troops in the area.
Fatah is Abbas' party. Announ-cements over camp loudspeakers blamed collaborators with Israel, but some residents said the shooting could have resulted from an internal Palestinian conflict.
Last week, a top adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon signaled that peace talks could resume if the Palestinians show goodwill on the incitement issue. Previously, Sharon had demanded a crackdown on militant groups -- a much harder step for Abbas -- before resuming talks.
A Palestinian broadcasting official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said efforts already are under way to revamp programming.
He said officials are reviewing material and planning changes after the 40-day mourning period for Arafat is over. In the meantime, he said, programming is limited to subdued material about Arafat.
The official said talk shows would now be recorded and edited rather than being broadcast live. Mosque preachers whose sermons are broadcast live on Palestinian TV and radio would be informed in advance and asked to avoid incitement.
"We have to record these kinds of shows and to take out the offensive material," the official said.
He also said old PLO fight songs praising revolution and sacrifice would be taken off the air.
The new programming rules are largely symbolic. Most Palestinians don't watch state television, preferring to tune in to livelier content on Arab satellite stations like al-Jazeera, al-Arabiya or Lebanon's Middle East Broadcasting Corp.