Most international TV networks and news agencies were unable to provide live coverage or video updates out of the Gaza Strip overnight due to communication outages as Israel stepped up its military campaign on the Palestinian territory.
Israel’s intensified bombing and incursion comes three weeks after Hamas’ terror attacks on Southern Israel, which killed 1,400 people and resulted in more than 220 people being abducted and taken back into Gaza as hostages.
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Palestinian telecommunications company Paltel announced on Friday night that all landline, mobile and internet had been lost on the Gaza Strip after the Israeli bombing destroyed remaining fiber routes serving the territory.
The only outlets providing a live video signal out of the territory, were Agence France Presse news agency (AFP) and Qatar-based network Al Jazeera, with the former achieving this via a satellite truck.
Most international news teams are equipped with satellite phones but users often need to stand on a tall building to get a signal, which is not safe to do during a bombardment.
BBC Radio 4’s Today program reported on Saturday morning UK time that it had ascertained that its team in Gaza was safe, but that they were not able to broadcast due to the downing of internet and phone communications.
The program instead read out a brief report filed via text by local correspondent Rushdi Abu Alouf, who is currently working out of Southern Gaza, in which he described “a huge bombardment on the north of the Gaza Strip on a scale never seen before.”
In the final minutes of the program, it was also able to play a recorded update in which Abu Alouf relayed scenes of chaos and desperation as people tried to get news about family members and friends in other parts of the territory.
Quizzed about the communications blackout by the Today program, Mark Regev, Senior Adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said such a course of action was standard procedure in military operations around the world.
“In military operations conducted by the British army and American army often it is standard behavior to disrupt the communications of your enemy,” he said.
He stopped short of confirming Israel had deliberately cut communications in Gaza.
“I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that. I just said it’s normal practice for Western democratic armies,” he said.
Asked on how he would feel if he were not able to communicate with his family, Regev replied: “There are many Israelis who are exactly in the same situation. They have loved ones in Gaza that they cannot contact. The Red Cross is even forbidden to visit them.”
According to the latest Israeli figures 229 people are currently being held by Hamas. Testimony from 85-year-old grandmother Yocheved Lifshitz, who is among four people released since October 7, revealed this week that they are being held in a separate groups in a labyrinthine network of tunnels under Gaza.
New York-based body the Committee for the Protection Of Journalists (CPJ), presided over by veteran international correspondent Jodie Ginsberg, put out a statement condemning the reported communications blackout.
“As news bureaus lose contact with their crews and reporters in Gaza, who are independently bearing witness to provide information about developments and the human toll of this war, the world is losing a window into the reality of all sides engaged in this conflict,” it said.
“A communications blackout is a news blackout. This can lead to serious consequences with an independent, factual information vacuum that can be filled with deadly propaganda, dis- and misinformation.”
With international journalists unable to cross in Gaza since October 7, the job of covering the situation on the ground for its 2.3 million inhabitants has fallen on some 1,200 local journalists, who work for a variety of local, regional and international outlets.
All the major news agencies and networks moved their staff out of the territory’s media hub of Gaza City shortly after October 13, when Israel airdropped leaflets on northern Gaza advising the population to move south.
Most orgs are now working out of temporary offices in the city of Khan Yunis in the south of the strip.
Around 7,000 people in Gaza have been killed in the Israeli bombing campaign according to figures released by the local health authorities.
This figure is refuted by Israel which says the health authorities are under the control of Hamas, but the country has yet to release an alternative estimate.
Journalists have also been caught up in the violence with the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) saying 23 Palestinian journalists had been killed in Gaza, several injured and a number missing as of October 26.
Al Jazeera issued a statement on Thursday condemning the death of Gaza correspondent Wael al-Dahdouh’s wife, daughter, son and grandson in an Israeli airstrike on the Nuseirat camp in central Gaza, where they had moved following Israel’s advice to leave the north of the territory.
Reuters News Agency and AFP reported on Friday that Israeli military had told them it could not guarantee the safety of their staff, after they wrote seeking assurances that their journalists in Gaza would not be targeted by Israeli strikes.
Most international outlets are working on contingency plans to evacuate their staff and families through the Rafah boarding crossing with Egypt, if and when they ask to leave Gaza for their safety.
At present, this is not currently possible because the crossing is not open to Gaza residents wishing to leave the territory, while many people also say they would be reluctant to evacuate even if the opportunity arose for fear of not being able to go back.
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