Israel votes to shut down Al Jazeera in the country

The Israeli 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 the weekly 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 did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But after Netanyahu threatened to close the channel last month, it said the prime minister’s allegations were “lies that incite against the safety of our journalists around the world”.

The government’s actions come as Israeli officials have 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 the Palestinian militant group.

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.

Netanyahu again vowed that he would reject what he described as Hamas’s “extreme positions”, including a permanent end to the war, the full withdrawal of the Israeli military from Gaza and “leav[ing] Hamas intact”.

“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 the militant group on October 7.

The deal 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.

Mediators have been trying to bridge the gaps between the warring parties through a multiphase deal that would work towards the “restoration of a sustainable calm” — a formulation that one Israeli official last week termed “creative framing” aimed at allowing a hostage deal to go ahead.

Senior US officials have lauded Israel for showing flexibility in this most recent round of talks, and have described 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.

In a sign of the increased urgency and pressure on both parties, the US dispatched CIA chief Bill Burns to Egypt over the weekend to intensify efforts to finalise a deal.

Israel refrained from sending a negotiation team back to Cairo on Saturday for further talks, insisting that it would first wait for Hamas’s response.

Netanyahu is under huge pressure from his far-right political allies, who have openly threatened to bring down his governing coalition if the proposal is accepted.

“No to a reckless deal, yes to Rafah,” national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir wrote on X on Saturday. “The prime minister knows very well what the price is for not fulfilling these obligations.”

Opposition leaders and families of the hostages criticised Netanyahu for trying to wreck the potential deal by influencing Hamas’s decision, and for playing politics with the fate of the 132 Israelis still held in Gaza.

Benny Gantz, a centrist member of the war cabinet and Netanyahu’s main political rival, urged the Israeli leader to “keep his cool and not to become hysterical for political reasons”.

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