Israel votes to shut down Al Jazeera in the country

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Israel’s far-right government has voted to shut down Al Jazeera, the Qatari-funded satellite channel, and prevent it operating in the country, accusing it of being a “mouthpiece for Hamas” and a threat to national security.

The motion was passed unanimously during a cabinet meeting on Sunday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stating: “Al Jazeera reporters harmed Israel’s security and incited against [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers. It’s time to remove the Hamas mouthpiece from our country.”

Israel’s communication minister Shlomo Karhi said in a video that the decision would take effect immediately, with authorities expected to close the channel’s offices and cancel permits for several dozen journalists and employees, as well as confiscating broadcasting equipment.

Al Jazeera, one of the few international networks broadcasting from Gaza, described the decision as a “deceptive and slanderous” move, while rejecting Netanyahu’s allegations.

“Al Jazeera Media Network strongly condemns and denounces this criminal act that violates human rights and the basic right to access of information,” it said in a statement. “Israel’s ongoing suppression of the free press, seen as an effort to conceal its actions in the Gaza Strip, stands in contravention of international and humanitarian law.”

The network added that it would pursue “all available legal channels through international legal institutions in its quest to protect both its rights and journalists, as well as the public’s right to information”.

In one of the most lethal rocket attacks launched by Hamas in months, the Palestinian militant group on Sunday fired 10 mortars and rockets towards the Kerem Shalom crossing — the main entry point for aid into Gaza from Israel.

According to authorities, the barrage injured over 10 Israelis and originated from Rafah several hundred metres from civilian shelters. Israeli forces responded with tank fire and airstrikes, and closed the crossing.

The move against Al Jazeera came as Israeli officials stepped up their criticisms of Qatar, which hosts Hamas’s political office and is playing a key role in mediating hostage negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

Qatari officials have increasingly expressed their frustration with Israel. Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, said last month that the Gulf state was re-evaluating its role as a mediator in the conflict, lamenting that Doha’s efforts were being undermined and exploited by politicians with “narrow interests”.

Al Jazeera’s English and Arabic language channels are expected to be blocked from Israeli cable providers. It was not yet clear how the move would affect the outlet’s operations and availability in the occupied West Bank.

Israel has for several years threatened to ban the channel, although the Israeli parliament only passed a law making it possible to shut down foreign media outlets deemed a security risk last month.

The move is likely to spur widespread condemnations in western and Arab capitals. Qatar founded the satellite network, which is popular across the Arab world, in 1996.

Qatar, along with the US and Egypt, has been a key mediator between Israel and Hamas since the militant group’s October 7 attack triggered the war in Gaza.

These efforts continue, although Netanyahu has insisted that Israel’s war in Gaza would not end regardless of whether a new ceasefire-for-hostage deal is reached, as mediators await an official response to the latest proposal for a deal from Hamas.

“Israel will not agree to Hamas’s demands, which would mean surrender; it will continue fighting until all of its objectives are achieved,” he said in a video message on Sunday.

Reports in Arab media outlets over the weekend indicated that Hamas was set to respond favourably to a proposed agreement brokered by Egypt, Qatar and the US.

This deal would halt the fighting in Gaza for an initial six weeks in return for the release of 33 Israeli hostages seized by Hamas on October 7.

The agreement being discussed in Cairo would also see the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, the further withdrawal of the IDF from the shattered coastal enclave and the return of masses of displaced Palestinians to their homes in north Gaza.

US officials have lauded Israel for showing flexibility in this most recent round of talks, and describe the deal on offer as “extraordinarily generous” for Hamas.

But they are also concerned about Netanyahu’s insistence that Israel will mount an offensive on Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city where more than 1mn people have sought sanctuary, whether there is a hostage deal or not, despite the US and UN agencies warning such an attack would have dire humanitarian consequences.

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