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Israel orders shut down of Al Jazeera in the country, seizes equipment, in ‘dark day for democracy’


Israel halted Al Jazeera’s operations in the country and seized some of its communications equipment on Sunday, drawing condemnation from the United Nations and rights groups of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s moves to restrict the freedom of the press.

The closure comes as ceasefire and hostage negotiations in Cairo show little sign of progress after nearly seven months of war, and as international concern grows over Israel’s expected military offensive in Rafah, in southern Gaza, where 1.5 million people are sheltering amid a devastating humanitarian crisis.

The Qatar-based news network, which has produced tenacious on-the-ground reporting on Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, called the closure of its offices a “criminal act,” while critics said that the decision was a “dark day for democracy” and that it sets a worrying precedent for other international media operating in Israel.

In a statement published on »

The Israeli Ministry of Communications announced on Sunday that it had closed the network’s offices in Jerusalem and confiscated its communications equipment. “In addition, the network’s cable and satellite broadcasts were interrupted and access to its websites was blocked,” the ministry said.

Netanyahu’s government has long complained about Al Jazeera’s operations, alleging anti-Israel bias and accusing the network of being a “mouthpiece for Hamas,” and the shutdown follows the adoption of a sweeping law authorizing the government to ban foreign networks perceived to pose a threat. to national security.

Israeli cable operators stopped broadcasting Al Jazeera networks late Sunday afternoon, CNN journalists in the country confirmed. The Al Jazeera cable channel in Israel now displays a message stating: “In accordance with the government’s decision, Al Jazeera channel broadcasts have been stopped in Israel. »

Ofir Gendelman, the prime minister’s spokesman for the Arab world, quoted Netanyahu as saying: “Al Jazeera journalists undermined Israel’s security and incited attacks on IDF soldiers.” It is time to expel the Hamas spokesperson from our country.”

Video obtained by CNN on Sunday shows Israeli police accompanied by Israeli Security Agency agents entering the Al Jazeera broadcast site in Jerusalem.

Al Jazeera said the Israeli cabinet’s decision violated the human right to access information.

He continued: “Israel’s crackdown on the free press to cover up its crimes by killing and arresting journalists has not deterred us from our duty. More than 140 Palestinian journalists have been martyred for the truth since the start of the war on Gaza.

Several network journalists working in Gaza have been injured or killed since October 7.

Al Jazeera again denied Israel’s “false allegations regarding our violation of professional frameworks governing media work” and called on media and human rights organizations “to condemn the repeated attacks by Israeli authorities against the press and journalists.

The move comes a month after Netanyahu pledged to shut down the country’s television station following the passage of the new law, which placed a series of restrictions on Al Jazeera in Israel.

These restrictions included giving the government the power to take action against bureaus run by the network and confiscate journalists’ equipment and press cards, as well as restrict its broadcasts and public access to its website. .

Netanyahu told X in early April that he intended to “act immediately in accordance with the new law” to end the outlet’s activities in the country.

Al Jazeera has a bureau in Jerusalem, as well as in the West Bank and Gaza.

Since the start of the war, it has produced critical on-the-ground coverage of Israeli military operations and their humanitarian impact on the besieged enclave.

The new law gives the prime minister and communications minister the power to order the temporary shutdown of foreign networks operating in Israel – powers that rights groups say could have far-reaching implications for international media coverage of the war in Gaza.

The spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, Stéphane Dujarric, condemned the closure of Al Jazeera on Sunday. “As we have previously said, we strongly oppose any decision to restrict press freedom. A free press provides an invaluable service to ensure the public is informed and engaged,” Dujarric said.

The Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel described the decision as “a dark day for democracy” and “a source of concern for all supporters of a free press”, while the Committee to Protect journalists said it “sets an extremely alarming precedent for restricting international media working in Israel.”

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch condemned the decision as an “attack on press freedom,” according to a written statement shared on Sunday by Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch director for Israel and Palestine (HRW).

“Rather than trying to silence reporting of its atrocities in Gaza, the Israeli government should stop committing them,” Shakir said.

The decision to shut down the network comes as press freedom groups grow increasingly concerned about casualties among journalists operating in war zones and what they describe as impediments to journalistic work. from the Israeli authorities.

As of May 3, 2024, preliminary investigations by the Committee to Protect Journalists showed that at least 97 journalists and media workers had been killed since the start of the war.

The annual Press Freedom Index, published Friday by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), indicates that the war in Gaza has been marked by “a record number of violations against journalists and the media” since October.

Palestine – the term used by the organization to designate the Palestinian territories – is ranked 157th out of 180 countries and territories in the Press Freedom Index, and it is the deadliest region for journalists, according to RSF. Israel is ranked 101st, falling four places from 2023.

The decision to close Al Jazeera in Israel comes as negotiators met in Cairo on Saturday, aiming to secure a ceasefire and a deal on the hostages.

Negotiators have made progress on the technical aspects of a potential deal, but two Israeli sources say it could take a week to finalize the deal itself. Qatar has played a key role in ceasefire negotiations in the ongoing war.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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jack colman

With a penchant for words, jack began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class. After interning at the New York Times, jack landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim. Though writing is his passion, jack also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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