The Council of State on Monday ordered Paris-based satellite operator Eutelsat to stop broadcasting Al-Manar within two days or pay a fine of up to 5000 euros ($6600) a day.

The council said the station broadcast some programmes that were openly contrary to a French law banning incitement to hate, a situation that poses risks to maintaining public order, it said.

A 2 December broadcast accused Israel of crimes against humanity. A 23 November programme quoted someone described as an expert on Zionist affairs warning of Zionist attempts to transmit dangerous diseases such as the HIV virus to Arab countries.

Possibility of reprieve

However, the council left open the possibility that Al-Manar could keep operating if the company that airs the station, the Lebanese Communication Group, shows itself ready to modify its programmes to conform with French law.

Paris says the channel airs
shows that can incite hatred

The decision risks a tit-for-tat move against France. Last Friday, Lebanese media officials warned that any decision to suspend or cancel Al-Manar could force Lebanese officials to take action against French stations.

Last Thursday, Lebanese Information Minister Elie Ferzli said his country would not remain silent if French measures are taken against Al-Manar.

France's High Audiovisual Council, or CSA, said in November that al-Manar had violated its contractual agreement as well as the French law banning media from inciting hatred or violence for reasons of religion or nationality.

Jewish groups protest

Only weeks ago, the CSA had reached an accord with Al-Manar that allowed the channel to broadcast in France despite appeals from Jewish groups that it was putting out anti-Semitic content.

Al-Manar is operated by the Shia Muslim group Hizb Allah.

The controversy over Al-Manar erupted a year ago after an umbrella group of French Jewish organisations complained about alleged anti-Semitic programming.

It came to the boil in recent months as more programmes deemed offensive were aired.