An Islamic group threatened to behead female TV broadcasters if they don't wear strict Islamic dress, frightening reporters and signaling a further shift toward extremism in the Gaza Strip.
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.
In many parts of the Muslim world, conservative policies keep women out of TV anchor positions or dictate they wear headscarves on air. Headscarves for TV broadcasters are uncommon, however, in Lebanon and Jordan, and even Egypt keeps newscasters who wear them off its TV stations.
The influence of Islamic groups in the Gaza Strip has grown over the past three decades, especially as poverty has risen since fighting with Israel began in 2000. Now, it is more common to see women with their faces covered with veils than women without their hair covered.
Most of the 15 women broadcasters on government-run Palestine TV wear headscarves. But they also wear makeup and Western clothing _ not considered strictly observant by extremists.
The Swords of Truth issued the statement Friday in an e-mail to news organizations.
"We will cut throats, and from vein to vein, if needed to protect the spirit and moral of this nation," the statement said. The group also accused the women broadcasters of being "without any ... shame or morals."
Prior to the statement, some women broadcasters said they had received personal threats through their mobile phones. It was not clear if the 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 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 the PBC already had security measures in place, but could not protect people on the way to work. The PBC is bankrolled by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, and is accused of openly exhibiting support for the moderate movement, a bitter rival of the Islamic group Hamas.
A senior security official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said The Swords of Truth had less than 100 members and was formed last year.
The group claimed responsibility for the bombings 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 the 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 won parliamentary elections last year, but has since formed a unity government with Fatah.
Hamas spokesman Ismail Ridwan said his faction had "no relation" to the group.
Other hardline groups also have become prominent in Gaza in recent months. The Army of Islam claimed responsibility for kidnapping British Broadcasting Corp. reporter Alan Johnston in March. And Muslim hardliners lobbed a bomb at a U.N.-run school in May, accusing the world body of "turning schools into nightclubs" for holding a show of traditional Palestinian dancing.