The PA has threatened legal action against Al Jazeera after it broadcast allegations by Farouk Kaddoumi, a Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official, that he had documents indicating that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, had plotted to assassinate Yasser Arafat, his predecessor.

Kaddoumi, a long-time rival of Abbas and one of the founders of the Fatah movement, claimed he had transcripts of the Palestinian president discussing the issue with Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli prime minister.

The Palestinian information ministry accused the network of "devoting significant segments of its broadcasts to incitement against the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA)".

'Serious violation'

The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also criticised the suspension, calling it "a serious violation of press freedom".

"It shows intolerance on the part of the Palestinian Authority and suggests that it is trying to control media by suppressing reporting which it does not like," Aidan White, the general secretary of IFJ, said in a statement.

"The ban should be lifted immediately."

Riad al-Malki, the Palestinian information minister, on Thursday denied that the PA was cutailing press freedom.

"We are respecting the law, that is why we asked the legal system to act," he said from the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Summit in Egypt.

Legal action

Al Jazeera has rejected the PA's complaints.

In a statement, the network said it was "stunned" that it had been sanctioned for the story, which had also been aired by several other media.

"Al Jazeera is astonished to learn of the Palestinian Authority's decision to suspend the network’s operations in the West Bank and the PA's intention to take legal action against Al Jazeera's Arabic channel.

"Al Jazeera believes that it has maintained strict professional journalistic standards and acted in accordance with its Code of Ethics in its coverage, and that the Palestinian Authority's reaction reflects a repression of the freedom of media and a refusal to tolerate the opinions of others.

"Al Jazeera is surprised that it has been targeted by this decision while many other Arab and international media organisations also broadcast Kaddoumi's allegations."