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Israel Shuts Down Local Al Jazeera Offices In The Country 

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Tel Aviv: The Israeli authorities on Sunday shut down the local offices of global news channel Al Jazeera. It was done hours after a government vote to use laws to close satellite news operations in the country.

This action coincides with the ongoing, shaky indirect ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas, marking a “dark day for the media” and adding to worries about Benjamin Netanyahu’s harsh government’s stance on free speech. The move was defended by Israeli officials, who claimed that Al Jazeera posed a threat to national security. Following the unanimous cabinet vote, Israel’s prime minister declared on social media that “the incitement channel Al Jazeera will be closed in Israel.”

Israel’s communications minister has issued instructions to shut down all Al Jazeera offices in Israel, seize broadcast equipment, disconnect the channel from cable and satellite providers, and restrict its websites, according to a statement from the Israeli government. The network, which has been supported by Qatar, has reported nonstop from Gaza during the seven-month conflict, and it has been critical of Israel’s military campaign there.

Al Jazeera said the accusation that it threatened Israeli security was a “dangerous and ridiculous lie” that put its journalists at risk. “Al Jazeera Media Network strongly condemns and denounces this criminal act that violates human rights and the basic right to access of information,” the company said in a statement. “Al Jazeera affirms its right to continue to provide news and information to its global audiences.”

After the prohibition took effect, the network aired a pre-recorded final report that listed the limitations imposed by a correspondent in Jerusalem. The Israeli government was previously accused by Al Jazeera of purposefully targeting a number of its journalists, including Hamza Al-Dahdouh and Samer Abu Daqqa, who were both assassinated in Gaza during the fighting. Israel denies the accusation and claims that journalists are not its target.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also criticised the move. “We regret cabinet decision to close Al Jazeera in Israel,” it said on X. “A free & independent media is essential to ensuring transparency & accountability. Now, even more so given tight restrictions on reporting from Gaza. Freedom of expression is a key human right. We urge govt to overturn the ban.”

A law allowing the temporary closure of foreign broadcasters deemed a danger to national security was adopted by the Israeli parliament last month. The law permits Netanyahu and his security cabinet to close Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Israel for a maximum of 45 days, with the option to extend this time. As a result, the closure might last until the end of July or until substantial military operations in Gaza.

Israeli officials have taken issue with Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language program for frequently publishing verbatim video remarks from Hamas and other militant groups in the region, despite the channel also featuring on-the-ground reportage of the war’s victims. The right-wing coalition government led by Benjamin Netanyahu last year launched a judicial reform drive that sparked strong criticism and charges of dictatorship. Recent Israeli crackdowns on demonstrators opposing the Gaza War have also given rise to fresh worries about free speech.

The Foreign Press Association, a NGO representing journalists working for international news organisations reporting from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza accused Israel of joining a “dubious club of authoritarian governments”. “This is a dark day for the media. This is a dark day for democracy,” it said in a statement.

There was also some political opposition in Israel to the move, or at least its timing. The National Unity Party, a centrist member of the ruling coalition, said that coming as ceasefire talks appeared close to failing, it could “sabotage efforts” to free Israeli hostages in Gaza. Qatar established Al Jazeera in 1996 to build influence around the Middle East and further afield.

The tiny Gulf state, home to several Hamas political figures, served as a crucial mediator in the negotiations but has recently been sidelined, which may have prompted the Israeli government to take action.

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