Netanyahu's cabinet votes to close Al Jazeera offices in Israel due to rising tensions

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that his government's cabinet has voted unanimously to close the local offices of Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera, escalating Israel's long-running feud with the channel at a time when cnegotiations with Hamas run smoothly – mediated by Qatar – are gaining momentum.

According to a statement from Netanyahu's office, the decision takes effect immediately. This could include closing the channel's offices in Israel, confiscating broadcast equipment, preventing the broadcast of the channel's reports and blocking its websites, the statement said.

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

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

This extraordinary move is believed to be the first time Israel has ever shut down a foreign news outlet, although the 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 could take action against a foreign channel seen as “harming the country.”

FILE PHOTO: The logo of the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network is seen in one of their offices in Jerusalem on June 13, 2017. Photo taken on June 13, 2017.

Ronen Zvulun / REUTERS


There was no immediate comment from Al Jazeera's headquarters in the Qatari capital Doha. But several Al Jazeera correspondents took to the air to give their insight into the impact of the decision on 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 recording live for months since the October 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 prohibited the channel from “holding or operating offices” in Israel. He said the broadcaster's websites would be blocked, although they were still accessible in Jerusalem on Sunday afternoon.

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 hosts Hamas leaders in exile.

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

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.

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.

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

An order to ban a broadcaster is seen by the Israeli government as an extraordinary measure, broadly allowing media to operate in the country. However, the government has in the past revoked press passes issued to individual correspondents for their reporting.

The country has a critical and outspoken local media scene, although Israel believes some international media harbors bias.

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 of collaborating with Hamas.

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

While Al Jazeera's English operations often resemble the programming of other major broadcast networks, its Arab branch often publishes verbatim video statements from Hamas and other militant groups in the region. Similarly, the country came under heavy US criticism during the US occupation of Iraq, after the 2003 invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

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.

Sunday's development was immediately reminiscent of Egypt's closure of Al Jazeera following the country's military takeover in 2013 following mass protests against President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Islamic Muslim Brotherhood. The channel covered many of the Brotherhood's protests live, angering Egypt's military government. At the time, Egyptian security forces raided a luxury hotel where the channel operated and arrested correspondents.

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

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