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Al Jazeera launches English service

Controversial Arab-based news service Al Jazeera launched a bare-boned English-language Web site on Monday. The site carries a limited number of stories and is focused entirely on the war in Iraq.
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The Arab-based news service Al Jazeera launched a bare-boned English-language Web site on Monday, but within hours, it was knocked offline by hackers. A spokesman for the site’s Web hosting company said a denial-of-service attack overwhelmed with traffic, rendering it intermittently unavailable. The Web site is designed to carry a limited number of stories and is focused entirely on the war in Iraq.

THE SLIM WEB site had about 35 headlines so far, including war news, features, and analysis, before it was knocked offline.

Ayman Arrashid, Internet system administrator at the Horizons Media and Information Services, the site’s Web host, said the attack began Tuesday morning local time.

The Web host is based in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar. The servers that host the Al-Jazeera site are in France and the United States, at the the firm’s Contra Costa, Calif. location. Only the U.S. servers were under attack, said Arrashid, so the attackers were likely in the United States.

He said technicians were working to thwart the attack, but could not estimate when the site would be fully available again.

Stories on the site viewed Monday questioned the accuracy and fairness of U.S. media reports, such as “Saddam dead until proven alive,” which criticizes speculation about the fate of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein after the initial air strikes on Baghdad last week.

Other headlines included: “Coalition of the willing has become a joke,” “Fighting misinformation: an Iraqi scientist’s lonely battle,” and “Has Israeli lobby influenced this war?”

Earlier this month, chief editor Abdulaziz Al Mahmoud had said that English versions of Al-Jazeera reports would be published on the firm’s Web site by the end of March.

An advertising banner atop the site flashes the words: “Temporary site: Dedicated to special coverage on Iraq.”

Al Jazeera, the leading Arabic 24-hour satellite-delivered news channel, has often raised the ire of U.S. government officials, who have accused the station of biased and irresponsible reporting. Several times, the station has aired interviews with Osama bin Laden, the man U.S. officials are still seeking for planning the Sept. 11 attacks.

Over the weekend, the station came under fire for airing video of American prisoners of war that had been filmed by the Iraqi government.

And on Monday, The New York Stock Exchange banned an Al Jazeera reporter from its trading floor, saying it was restricting access to “responsible” networks, as the Arab satellite television channel faces criticism in the United States for its coverage of the war in Iraq.

“We’ve had to focus our efforts on networks that focus on responsible business coverage,” said NYSE spokesman Ray Pellecchia, declining to comment further.

He described the Al Jazeera ban as “indefinite.”

But Al Jazeera, which has received substantial financial backing from the Qatar government, has also gained respectability, thanks in part to its large following in the Arab world. And High-ranking U.S. officials, including National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, have been interviewed by the station. Many observers say its news is far less biased than its normal competition in the Arab world — state run television stations.

Al Mahmoud told the Qatar-based Peninsula newspaper two weeks ago that the Al-Jazeera Arabic-language Web site gets 10 to 13 million hits each day. The television news service claims 35 million viewers.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.