Al Jazeera Promises To Relaunch On Web
By Ashraf Khalil

Doha, Qatar
-- The al-Jazeera English-language Web site, which was knocked out of cyberspace on its first day by irate Web surfers, is forging ahead with plans for a relaunch, station officials said Monday.

"There was a huge surge in interest," said Nabil Hijazi, the Web site's deputy managing editor, who predicted Monday that the English site could be back up as early as the middle of this week. "We expect that to continue. People are looking for a fresh voice."

Within a day of its March 24 premiere, amid wide spread Western outrage when al-Jazeera television aired footage of dead and captured U.S. soldiers, the site was wiped out by a cyber attack. The older Arabic- language al-Jazeera site was also shut down by hackers, who replaced it with an image of a U.S. flag.

It was a fitting start for the new Web site -- which stands to both benefit and suffer from the long shadow cast by its parent channel -- the Qatar-based station known as the "CNN of the Arab world." Hijazi said that on its first day, the site attracted a flood of genuine visitors in addition to the server-jamming wave of requests known as a denial- of-service attack. When the site does come back, it can count on intense Western scrutiny.

Already, Joanne Tucker, the English site's managing editor, says Yahoo and AOL have refused to run ads for the new site.  For many in the West, the al-Jazeera brand name has been synonymous with anti-U.S. bias -- and the recent controversy has only heightened that perception. The Web site did nothing to dispel that perception in its brief premiere. Headlines dripped with sarcasm. One read: "U.S. 'precision' bomb destroys civilian bus."

Another story, headlined "U.S. remembers Geneva convention," mocked the Americans for insisting that the rules of war forbid humiliating displays of prisoners of war. "Images of surrendering Iraqi soldiers being forced to kneel down and body searched by U.S. troops stirred few emotions in the Western world," the text said.

Web site executives concede that the tone caused offense, and they say the resuscitated site will be less aggressively anti-American. But they vow to keep the site up and running, despite the threat of further attacks.

"It's a must," said Ibtisam al Gindi, the head of mass communications at Qatar University. "It should have been here before. It's almost too late." As for al-Jazeera's coverage, al Gindi agrees that the channel is not bjective -- but then neither is anybody else, she says. 

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