Israel backtracks on AP equipment confiscation over Gaza feed

This image shows Israeli authorities confiscating Al Jazeera’s equipment on May 5 after Israel’s parliament passed the law [GETTY]

The Israeli authorities have backtracked on an earlier decision to confiscate camera equipment belonging to the Associated Press (AP) on Tuesday after saying the news agency was breaking the law by providing a live broadcast to Al Jazeera television, AP and Israel’s Communications Ministry said.

Israel’s communications minister said in a statement late on Tuesday that it had decided to return the equipment to AP after reviewing the situation.

The White House said it had “expressed serious concern” to Israeli government officials over the move and told them to hand the kit back to AP. The communications ministry later issued a u-turn.

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

Israel’s Communications Ministry said in a statement that equipment had been confiscated from AP’s position in the Israeli town of Sderot. It said AP had been told last week it was forbidden to provide feed to Al Jazeera but continued to do so.

“The confiscated camera illegally broadcasts the northern Gaza Strip live on Al Jazeera TV, including IDF activity and endangers our fighters,” it said, referring to the Israel Defense Forces.

The White House said the incident was “concerning”. Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the White House would look into the situation and believed journalists had the right to do their jobs.

It said later that it is engaging directly with Israel to ask that its action confiscating Associated Press camera equipment be reversed.

The AP said in a statement 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 rather an abusive use by the Israeli government of the country’s new foreign broadcaster law”.

AP urged the authorities to return its equipment and allow it to reinstate the live feed. It said it had received a verbal order to shut down the feed on May 16 but said it had refused to comply. It did not give a reason.

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

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 clients around the world, including Al Jazeera.

Israel closed down Qatari-owned Al Jazeera’s operations citing national security concerns in early May and said they would stay shut for the duration of the Gaza war.

Al Jazeera criticised the move, calling 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 and the Communications Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


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