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Netanyahu shuts down Al Jazeera in Israel

Jerusalem – Al Jazeera went off-air in Israel Sunday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government decided to shut it down following a long-running feud, a move the Qatar-based channel decried as “criminal”.

Netanyahu declared on X that the government had “unanimously decided: the incitement channel Al Jazeera will be closed in Israel”.

The government said the order was initially valid for 45 days, with the possibility of an extension.

Hours later, screens carrying Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English channels went blank, apart from a message in Hebrew saying they had “been suspended in Israel”.

The shutdown does not apply to the Israeli-occupied West Bank or Gaza Strip, from which Al Jazeera still broadcasts live on Israel’s war with Hamas.

Al Jazeera condemned Israel’s decision as “criminal”, charging on X that it “violates the human right to access information”.

The Foreign Press Association said shutting down Al Jazeera in Israel was “a dark day for the media (and) a dark day for democracy”, and the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate slammed the move as “a war crime”.

The decision came after Israel’s parliament last month voted overwhelmingly to pass a new national security law granting top ministers the power to ban broadcasts by foreign channels and close their offices if they are deemed a national security threat.

Shortly after the law was passed, Netanyahu singled out Al Jazeera, which bills itself as the “first independent news channel in the Arab world”.

– ‘Hamas trumpets’ –

Netanyahu charged in a statement Sunday that “Al Jazeera correspondents have harmed the security of Israel and incited against IDF (Israeli military) soldiers”.

“There will be no freedom of speech for the Hamas trumpets in Israel,” Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said in the joint statement with Netanyahu.

“Al Jazeera will be closed immediately and the equipment will be confiscated.”

AFP saw that Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem office had been closed, and social media footage showed Israeli authorities removing equipment from an east Jerusalem hotel used by the broadcaster.

Karhi issued an order to seize devices “used to deliver the channel’s content”, including cameras, editing equipment, laptops and some cell phones.

Netanyahu’s government has had a long-running feud with Al Jazeera from before the war in Gaza.

The dispute worsened amid Israeli criticism of its coverage of the war that broke out after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel.

The attack resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli figures.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,683 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

– ‘Obliterating the truth’ –

Speaking to AFP, Walid al-Omari, head of Al Jazeera’s offices in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, charged that the Israeli move was aimed at “obliterating the truth”.

“Al Jazeera is one of the leading media outlets in conveying the truth about what this disastrous war is (doing to) civilians and citizens … in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

Hamas also slammed Israel’s decision, calling it “a repressive and retaliatory measure against the professional role of Al Jazeera in exposing the crimes and violations” in the Gaza war.

The closure is “aimed at concealing the truth”, a Hamas statement said.

At least 97 journalists and media workers have been killed since the war began, among them Palestinians, Israelis and Lebanese, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The number marks “the deadliest period for journalists” since 1992, when the CPJ began gathering data.

In January, Israel said an Al Jazeera staff journalist and a freelancer killed in a Gaza air strike were “terror operatives”.

The following month, it accused another Al Jazeera journalist wounded in a separate strike of being a “deputy company commander” with Hamas.

Al Jazeera has fiercely denied Israel’s allegations, and accused it of systematically targeting its employees in Gaza.

Launched in Doha in 1996, the network says it has more than 70 bureaux around the globe, with 3,000 employees and an audience in 430 million homes.

Qatar, which partly funds Al Jazeera, also serves as a base for Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Al Jazeera’s Gaza bureau chief Wael al-Dahdouh was wounded in an Israeli strike in December that killed the network’s cameraman.

Dahdouh’s wife, two of their children and a grandson were killed in October bombardment of central Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp.

And Dahdouh’s eldest son was the Al Jazeera staff journalist killed in January when a strike targeted a car in Rafah.

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