Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Israel to return Associated Press’s seized video equipment used for Gaza live feed

Israeli authorities confiscated camera equipment belonging to The Associated Press on Tuesday, before reversing course in the face of widespread condemnation from media groups and criticism even from its closest ally, the United States.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said in a statement he had ordered officials to cancel the original decision and return the confiscated equipment, pending a decision by the Ministry of Defence, which he said wished to examine the issue.

The Israeli Communications Ministry had earlier accused AP of breaking the law by providing a live broadcast to Al Jazeera, which it placed under a temporary ban earlier this month, accusing it of endangering national security.

The news agency said it was ordered to shut down a live feed showing a view into Gaza from the Israeli town of Sderot, saying this was not based on content but “an abusive use by the Israeli government of the country’s new foreign broadcaster law.”

“The Associated Press decries in the strongest terms the actions of the Israeli government to shut down our long-standing live feed showing a view into Gaza and seize AP equipment,” AP spokesperson Lauren Easton said.

The media law, passed in April, allows the government to order foreign broadcasters to temporarily cease operations on grounds of national security.

A hazy view of Gaza with electrical wires running across image.
A screenshot taken from an Associated Press live feed shows a general view of northern Gaza, as seen from southern Israel, before Israeli officials seized the news agency’s video equipment. (The Associated Press)

AP said it had complied with military censorship rules that prohibit broadcasts of details like troop movements that could endanger soldiers. It said the live shot had generally shown smoke rising over Gaza.

Like AP, Reuters also provides a live feed from positions around Gaza to thousands of clients around the world, including Al Jazeera.

Israel closed down Qatari-owned Al Jazeera’s operations on May 5, citing national security concerns, in early May and said they would stay shut for the duration of the war in Gaza. Officials confiscated the channel’s equipment, banned its broadcasts and blocked its websites.

Al Jazeera called the accusation that it threatened Israeli security a “dangerous and ridiculous lie.”

It had no immediate comment when asked about the AP incident on Tuesday.

Spokespeople for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters.

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‘A slippery slope’

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid called the confiscation of AP’s equipment “an act of madness.”

“This is not Al Jazeera. This is an American news outlet,” he said. “This government acts as if it has decided to make sure at any cost that Israel will be shunned all over the world.”

Karhi, the communications minister, responded that the law, passed unanimously by the government, stated that any device used to deliver content to Al Jazeera could be seized.

“We will continue to act decisively against anyone who tries to harm our soldiers and the security of the state, even if you don’t like it,” he wrote to Lapid on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

At the time Israel shut down Al Jazeera’s operations, media groups warned of the serious implications for press freedom in the country, since the law gives Karhi, part of the hard-right flank of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, wide leeway to enforce it against other media.

The White House, which has supported Israel in the war, said the incident was concerning and that journalists had the right to do their jobs.

Media rights groups blasted the move, which Reporters without Borders called “outrageous censorship.”

“Israel’s move today is a slippery slope,” the Foreign Press Association said in a statement following the confiscation of AP’s equipment, warning that the law “could allow Israel to block media coverage of virtually any news event on vague security grounds.”

Israel has long had a rocky relationship with Al Jazeera, accusing it of bias against the country, and Netanyahu has called it a “terror channel” that spreads incitement.

Al Jazeera is one of the few international news outlets that has remained in Gaza throughout the war, broadcasting scenes of airstrikes and overcrowded hospitals and accusing Israel of massacres. AP is also in Gaza.

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