A Muslim extremist group threatened to behead female TV broadcasters if they don't don strict Islamic dress, leaving the women terrified and marking a further downward spiral in Gaza's anarchy.
The threat to "cut throats from vein to vein" was delivered by the Swords of Truth, a fanatical group that
has previously claimed responsibility for bombing Internet cafes and music shops.
The new threat was the first time the organization targeted a specific group of people, and adds to a growing climate of extremism, fear and suspicion in Gaza.
In many parts of the Muslim world, religious conservative policies keep women out of TV anchoring positions or only let them take the jobs if they wear headscarves. But in some countries scarves are uncommon, like Lebanon and Jordan, and Egypt even keeps newscasters who wear them off its TV stations.
Most of the 15 women broadcasters on government-run Palestine TV wear headscarves. But they also wear makeup and Western clothing, which is not considered strictly observant by the extremists.
The Swords of Truth issued the statement Friday in an e-mail sent to news organizations. "We will cut throats, and from vein to vein, if needed to protect the spirit and moral of this nation."
The group accused the broadcasters of being "without any...shame or morals" and said it knew where to find the women.
Prior to the statement, some women broadcasters said they had received personal threats through their mobile phones. It was not clear if those threats were from the same group.
One anchorwoman who does not wear a headscarf said she was too frightened by the threat to go to work on Saturday.
"It's a dangerous precedent in our society. It will target all working women," said the broadcaster, who
declined to give her name out of fear. "The statement frightened us."
Another presenter who wears a headscarf, on Palestine TV, said she couldn't understand why they were targeted. "I hope they take it back. I hope not a bullet will be fired at us," she said.
Basem Abu Sumaya, head of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, which runs Palestine TV, said that the PBC already had security measures in place, but could not protect people on the way to work.
The PBC is bankrolled by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and is accused of openly exhibiting support for the Fatah movement.
A senior security official, who requested anonymity owing to the issue's sensitivity, said The Swords of Truth had less than 100 members, and was formed last year.
The group claimed responsibility for the bombings since October of about three dozen Internet cafes, music shops and pool halls, which are considered places of vice by some in deeply conservative Gaza.
Assailants detonated small bombs outside businesses at night, causing damage but no injuries.
The security official said his forces were taking the threat seriously. He said Hamas members funded the group, wanting to impose a hardline version of Islam in Gaza. Hamas spokesman Ismail Ridwan said his faction had "no relation" to the group.
This is not the first display of recent Islamic extremism in Gaza. Only last month, Muslim hardliners lobbed a bomb at a UN-run school, accusing the world body of "turning schools into nightclubs" for holding a display of traditional Palestinian dancing.