27.7 C
New York
June 14, 2024

Netanyahu’s Cabinet votes to close Al Jazeera offices in Israel following rising tensions

Netanyahu’s Cabinet votes to close Al Jazeera offices in Israel following rising tensions

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that his government has voted unanimously to shut down the local offices of Qatar-owned broadcaster Al Jazeera, escalating Israel’s long-running feud with the channel at a time when cease-fire negotiations with Hamas — mediated by Qatar — are gaining steam.

According to a statement from Netanyahu’s office, the decision goes into effect immediately. It could include closing the channel’s offices in Israel, confiscating broadcast equipment, preventing the broadcast of the channel’s reports and blocking its websites, among other measures, the statement said.

Israeli media said the vote allows Israel to block the channel from operating in the country for 45 days, according to the decision.

“Al Jazeera reporters harmed Israel’s security and incited against soldiers,” Netanyahu said in the statement. “It’s time to remove the Hamas mouthpiece from our country.”

The extraordinary move is believed to be the first time Israel has ever shuttered a foreign news outlet, although its government has taken action against individual reporters in the past. The statement from Netanyahu’s office said that under a law passed last month, the government can take action against a foreign channel seen as “harming the country.”

There was no immediate comment from Al Jazeera headquarters in the Qatari capital of Doha. But several Al Jazeera correspondents went on air to give their understanding of how the decision would affect 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 doing live shots for months since the Oct. 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, on Al Jazeera’s English channel, said the order barred the channel from “holding offices or operating them” in Israel. He said the broadcaster’s websites would be blocked, though they were still accessible by Sunday afternoon in Jerusalem.

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

Qatar has had strained ties with Netanyahu in particular since he made comments suggesting that Qatar is not exerting enough pressure on Hamas to prompt it to relent in its terms for a truce deal. Qatar hosts Hamas leaders in exile.

The sides appear to be close to striking a deal, but multiple previous rounds of talks have ended with no agreement.

Shortly after the government’s decision, Cabinet members from the National Unity party criticized its timing, saying it “may sabotage the efforts to finalize the negotiations and stems from political considerations.” The party said that in general, it supported the decision.

Israel has long had a rocky relationship with Al Jazeera, accusing it of bias. Relations took a major downturn nearly two years ago when Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh was killed during an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank.

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

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

In 2017, Israel threatened to revoke an Al Jazeera reporter’s credentials after an interview surfaced in which the reporter expressed support for Palestinian “resistance.”

An order barring a broadcaster is seen as an extraordinary measure by the Israeli government, which broadly allows media outlets to operate in the country. However, the government has in the past revoked press cards issued to individual correspondents over their coverage.

The country has a critical and outspoken local media scene, though Israel views some international outlets as harboring bias against it.

Al Jazeera is one of the few international media outlets to remain in Gaza throughout the war, broadcasting bloody scenes of airstrikes and overcrowded hospitals and accusing Israel of massacres. Israel accuses Al Jazeera of collaborating with Hamas.

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

While Al Jazeera’s English operation often resembles the programming found on other major broadcast networks, its Arabic arm often publishes verbatim video statements from Hamas and other militant groups in the region. It similarly came under harsh U.S. criticism during America’s occupation of Iraq after its 2003 invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

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

Sunday’s development immediately recalled Egypt’s shutdown of Al Jazeera after the country’s 2013 military takeover following mass protests against President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group. The channel covered many of the Brotherhood’s protests live, to the anger of Egypt’s military government. At the time, Egyptian security forces raided a luxury hotel the channel operated out of, arresting its correspondents.

Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed received 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.


Gambrell reported from Jerusalem.

Read More