Israeli officials remove live footage of Gaza from AP, US urges them to reverse blockade

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli government on Tuesday will return a camera and broadcast equipment it had confiscated from The Associated Press, reversing course hours after it blocked the news organization’s live video from Gaza and faced mounting criticism for interfering with independent journalism.

The government confiscated AP equipment located in southern Israel after accusing it of violating a new media law providing images to the Al Jazeera satellite channel.

Israeli officials used the new law on May 5 to shut down Qatar-based Al Jazeera inside Israel, confiscating its equipment, banning its broadcasts and blocking its websites.

After Israel seized the AP team, the Biden administration, news organizations and an Israeli opposition leader condemned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and pressured it to reverse the decision.

Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said Tuesday night on social platform X: “I have ordered to cancel the action and return the equipment to the PA.”

Karhi said the Defense Ministry will undertake a review of the media’s position on live videos from Gaza. Officials had not previously told the AP that the location of their live camera was an issue. Instead, they repeatedly noted that the footage appeared in real time on Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera is one of thousands of AP clients and receives live video from AP and other news organizations.

“While we are pleased with this development, we remain concerned about the Israeli government’s use of foreign broadcasting law and the ability of independent journalists to operate freely in Israel,” said Lauren Easton, AP vice president of corporate communications.

Communications Ministry officials arrived at AP’s location in the southern city of Sderot on Tuesday afternoon and confiscated the equipment. They gave the AP a piece of paper, signed by Karhi, alleging that he violated the country’s foreign broadcasting law.

Shortly before, AP broadcast an overview of northern gaza. The AP complies with Israel’s military censorship rules, which prohibit the broadcast of details such as troop movements that could endanger soldiers. Live images generally show smoke rising over the territory.

Last Thursday, the AP had been verbally ordered to cease live broadcasting, which it refused.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid called the government’s move against AP “an act of madness.”

Karhi responded to Lapid that the law passed unanimously by the government states that any device used to deliver Al Jazeera content could be confiscated.

News organizations condemned Israel’s seizure of AP equipment, and the Biden administration also exerted pressure.

“As soon as we learned of the reports, the White House and the State Department immediately reached out to the Israeli government at high levels to express our serious concern and ask them to reverse this action,” said Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the National Council. of security. “The free press is an essential pillar of democracy and members of the media, including AP, do vital work that must be respected.”

When Israel closed Al Jazeera’s offices earlier this month, media groups warned of the serious implications for press freedom in the country.

“Israel’s record on press freedom has already been dismal throughout the war,” the Foreign Press Association said in a statement Tuesday. “It has prevented independent access to Gaza for foreign journalists.”

AP’s live video taken from Sderot has provided a rare independent view of the situation in Gaza.

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

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

During the previous war between Israel and Hamas in 2021, the military destroyed the building that housed the AP office in Gaza, claiming that Hamas had used the building for military purposes. The PA denied any knowledge of Hamas’ presence and the military never provided any evidence to support its claim.

The war in Gaza began with a Hamas attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and took another 250 hostage. More than 35,000 Palestinians have died since then, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in your count.

___

Kirka reported from London. Zeke Miller, Aamer Madhani and Seung Min Kim in Washington contributed to this report.

___

Follow AP’s war coverage on https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war