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Netanyahu’s cabinet votes to close Al Jazeera offices in Israel after rising tensions

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that his government has voted unanimously to close the local offices of Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera, escalating Israel’s long-running feud with the channel at a time when ceasefire negotiations with Hamas – mediated by Hamas – take place. Qatar – gaining strength.

Netanyahu announced the decision on X, formerly Twitter, but details on the implications of the move on the canal, when it would take effect and whether the measure was permanent or temporary were not immediately clear.

“My government has unanimously decided: the incendiary channel Al Jazeera will close in Israel,” Netanyahu wrote on X. Al Jazeera has vehemently denied that it is inciting against Israel.

There was no immediate comment from the channel’s headquarters in the Qatari capital Doha. But several Al Jazeera correspondents took to the airwaves to give their views on the impact of the decision on the channel.

An Al Jazeera correspondent on its Arabic service said the order would affect the broadcaster’s operations in Israel and in east Jerusalem, where it has been recording live for months since the October 7 attack that sparked the war in Gaza.

It would not affect Al Jazeera’s operations in the Palestinian territories, the correspondent said.

Another correspondent for English channel Al Jazeera said the order banned the channel from “holding or operating offices” in Israel. He said the broadcaster’s websites would be blocked, although they were still accessible in Jerusalem on Sunday afternoon.

Israeli media said the vote allows Israel to block the channel from operating in the country for 45 days, the decision said. Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said in a video on X that the channel’s “equipment will be confiscated.”

The decision threatens to heighten tensions with Qatar at a time when the Doha government, along with Egypt and the United States, is playing a key role in mediation efforts to end the war in Gaza.

Qatar has had strained ties with Netanyahu, especially since he made comments suggesting that Qatar is not putting enough pressure on Hamas to push the country to give in to its terms for a ceasefire. Qatar hosts Hamas leaders in exile.

The parties appear to be close to an agreement, but several previous rounds of talks have ended without an agreement.

Israel has long had a rocky relationship with Al Jazeera and accuses the company of bias. Relations entered a major downturn almost two years ago when Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh was killed during an Israeli military strike in the occupied West Bank.

Those relations deteriorated further after the outbreak of Israel’s war against Hamas on October 7, when the militant group carried out a cross-border attack in southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 250 others hostage.

In December, an Israeli attack killed an Al Jazeera cameraman while he was reporting on the war in southern Gaza. The channel’s Gaza bureau chief, Wael Dahdouh, was injured in the same attack.

Al Jazeera is one of the few international media outlets that remained in Gaza during the war. They broadcast bloody images of air raids and overcrowded hospitals and accuse Israel of massacres. Israel accuses Al Jazeera of collaborating with Hamas.

Al Jazeera, which is funded by the Qatari government, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

While Al Jazeera’s English operations often resemble the programming of other major broadcast networks, its Arab branch often publishes verbatim video statements from Hamas and other militant groups in the region. Similarly, it came under heavy US criticism during the American occupation of Iraq, after the 2003 invasion toppled director Saddam Hussein.

Al Jazeera has been closed or blocked by other governments in the Middle East. These include Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain amid a yearslong boycott of Doha by the countries amid a yearslong political dispute that ended in 2021.

Sunday’s development was immediately reminiscent of Egypt’s closure of Al Jazeera following the country’s military takeover in 2013 following mass protests against President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Islamic Muslim Brotherhood. The channel covered many of the Brotherhood’s protests live, angering Egypt’s military government. At the time, Egyptian security forces raided a luxury hotel where the channel operated and arrested correspondents.

Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were given 10-year prison sentences but were later released in 2015 amid widespread international criticism.

Egypt considers the Brotherhood a terrorist group and accused both Qatar and Al Jazeera of supporting it.