Spanish News Agency EFE Admits Publishing 4-year-old Gaza Photos from Pro-Polisario Source that Falsely Identified Victims as Coming from W. Sahara
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat on Saturday condemned Spanish news agency EFE's "unacceptable and unfounded" publication last week of 4-year-old photos of Palestinian infants injured in Gaza which were falsely identified as photos of victims of Monday's unrest in Laayoune, in Moroccan Sahara. The false photos (see example below) were printed in the major Spanish newspapers El Pais and El Mundo prior to a pro-Polisario demonstration this past weekend in Madrid.
"I saw the EFE's pictures; they well and truly come from the Gaza Strip and not Laayoune," said Erekat, who denounced the photos as "disinformation" to mislead international public opinion and distort Morocco's record. He reaffirmed Palestinian support for Morocco's efforts to settle the Western Sahara conflict through dialogue and peaceful means, and condemned EFE's failure to respect journalistic ethics.
EFE admitted the error on Friday, saying it purchased the photos from activists at a pro-Polisario website. The photos showed the Gaza infants with their heads bandaged in a hospital. The caption in El Pais said: "Two injured Saharan children are treated at a hospital in Laayoune."
The Polisario Front and its supporters have made a number of unsubstantiated allegations over the past week to cover up serious violence committed by their backers in Laayoune.
Last Monday, Moroccan authorities attempted to peacefully disperse a protest in Laayoune that began legitimately but was taken over by pro-Polisario militants. 70 Moroccan police were injured and 10 police killed when they moved in with non-lethal gear, no weapons, and were attacked by militants with knives, bottled gas canisters, and Molotov cocktails.
This account was supported by independent eyewitnesses. After examining the protest site, the UN Secretary-General's representative Hany Abdel-Aziz, head of MINURSO, the UN presence in Western Sahara, told French daily Le Monde, "I saw no trace of bullet cartridges." Instead, he was "amazed by the number of butane gas bottles" which militants used to set fires.
Most of the demonstrators left the camps when authorities asked and escaped serious harm. Abdel-Aziz commented that the truth was far from the thousands of civilian casualties the Polisario claimed.