Israel court extends Al Jazeera ban

Children queue with pots to receive food aid from a kitchen at the Abu Zeitun school run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in the Jabalia camp for Palestinian refugees in the northern Gaza Strip on June 13, 2024. [AFP] 

An Israeli court has confirmed and extended for 35 days the government's shutdown of Qatar-based television news channel Al Jazeera, the justice ministry said on Friday.

Al Jazeera, which broadcasts in Arabic and English, went off the air in Israel under an initial 45-day order early last month.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has had a long-running feud with Al Jazeera that has worsened since the Gaza war began in October.

"The Tel Aviv district court confirmed the communications minister's instructions to stop Al Jazeera channel broadcasts, close its bureaus in Israel, block access to its websites and seize the equipment," the justice ministry said.

The order, issued Thursday after a prosecutor's request for its confirmation and extension, was for an additional 35 days, the ministry said on its website.

The shutdown does not affect broadcasts from the Israeli-occupied West Bank or the Gaza Strip, from which Al Jazeera still covers Israel's war with Hamas Palestinian militants.

Parliament passed a security law in April enabling it to ban foreign media broadcasts in Israel that undermine security.

The government on May 5 approved a decision to ban Al Jazeera from broadcasting in Israel and to close its offices for 45 days.

But on June 9 the supreme court, responding to petition from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, referred the case to the Tel Aviv district court.

The government then asked that court to confirm the ban for 45 days. The judge authorised a 35-day ban, citing legal flaws.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi reacted in a statement, calling Al Jazeera "a mouthpiece for terrorism in the service of Hamas".

"For absurd legal reasons, we are forced (to request) its closure in Israel every 45 days. We will continue to do whatever is necessary to cleanse the region of terrorism and incitement" to violence, he added.

In January, Israel said an Al Jazeera staff journalist and a freelancer killed in an air strike in Gaza were "terror operatives".

The following month, another journalist with the channel who was wounded in a separate strike was accused of being a "deputy company commander" with Hamas.

Al Jazeera denied the allegations.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) had called for a reversal of the ban. The United Nations, United States and Germany also opposed it.

Israel is ranked 101 out of 180 in the RSF 2024 World Press Freedom Index.

The Tel Aviv court said freedom of expression "is particularly important in times of war. However, when there is a significant infringement upon the security of the state, priority is given to the latter consideration."

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