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Israel orders Al Jazeera to close its local operations

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israel ordered the local offices of Qatari satellite news network Al Jazeera closed Sunday, escalating a long-running feud between the broadcaster and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline government during the Doha-brokered ceasefire fire negotiations. with Hamas is at stake.

The extraordinary order, which includes the seizure of broadcast equipment, preventing the broadcast of the channel’s reports and blocking its websites, would mark the first time Israel has ever shut down a foreign news channel.

Al Jazeera left Israel’s main cable provider in the hours after the order. However, the website and streaming links on multiple online platforms were still active on Sunday.

The network has been reporting non-stop on the war between Israel and Hamas since the militants’ first cross-border attack on October 7 and has maintained 24-hour coverage in the Gaza Strip amid Israel’s ground offensive that has killed members of its own staff and injured. While also reporting on war victims on the ground, the Arab branch often publishes verbatim video statements from Hamas and other militant groups in the region, drawing Netanyahu’s ire.

“Al Jazeera reporters have damaged Israeli security and incited against soldiers,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “It is time to remove the Hamas mouthpiece from our country.”

Al Jazeera pledged in a statement that it will “use all available legal channels through international legal institutions in its quest to protect both its rights as journalists, as well as the public’s right to information.”

“Israel’s continued suppression of the free press, seen as an attempt to conceal its actions in the Gaza Strip, violates international and humanitarian law,” the network said. “Israel’s direct targeting and killings of journalists, arrests, intimidation and threats will not deter Al Jazeera from its obligation to report, while more than 140 Palestinian journalists have been killed since the start of the war on Gaza.”

Israeli media said the order allows Israel to block the channel from operating in the country for 45 days.

The Israeli government has taken action against individual reporters for decades since its founding in 1948, but by and large it allows a turbulent media scene with foreign agencies from around the world, even from Arab countries. That changed with a law passed last month that Netanyahu’s office said allows the government to take action against a foreign broadcaster seen as “harming the country.”

Immediately after the announcement, Al Jazeera’s English branch began broadcasting a pre-recorded message from one of its correspondents from a hotel the channel has been using for months in East Jerusalem, and which the Palestinians hope to one day have for their future state.

“They also banned all devices including my mobile phone,” said correspondent Imran Khan. “If I use it for any kind of news gathering, the Israelis can simply confiscate it.”

The ban did not appear to affect the canal’s operations in the occupied West Bank or the Gaza Strip, which Israel controls but which are not sovereign Israeli territory.

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 especially strained ties with Netanyahu since he made comments suggesting Qatar is not putting enough pressure on Hamas to push it to give in to its terms for a ceasefire. Qatar receives exiled Hamas leaders at a political office in Doha.

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

In a statement Sunday, Hamas condemned the Israeli government’s order and called on international organizations to take action against Israel.

Shortly after the government’s decision, National Unity Party cabinet members criticized its timing, saying it “could sabotage efforts to conclude negotiations and stems from political considerations.” The party said it generally supported the decision.

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. Since then, Israel’s military campaign in Gaza has killed more than 34,000 people, according to local health officials there, who do not break down the figures into civilians and fighters.

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. Dahdouh, a correspondent who knew Palestinians well during many wars, later evacuated Gaza, but only after Israeli attacks killed his wife, three of his children and a grandson.

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, funded by the Qatari government, of collaborating with Hamas. However, criticism of the channel is not new. The U.S. government turned its attention to the broadcaster during the U.S. occupation of Iraq, after the 2003 invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, and broadcasting videos of the late al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

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.

In 2013, Egyptian authorities raided a luxury hotel used by Al Jazeera as a base following the military takeover that followed mass protests against President Mohammed Morsi. The channel was apparently targeted for its continued coverage of the Muslim Brotherhood’s protests over Morsi’s ouster.

Three Al-Jazeera employees, Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, were given 10-year prison sentences but were released in 2015 after widespread international criticism.


Gambrell reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Jack Jeffrey in Jerusalem contributed.

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