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Israel revokes order to cut AP live Gaza video feed

The Gaza war is now in its 21st day
— Jerusalem (AFP)

Israel walked back its decision to shut down an Associated Press live video feed of war-torn Gaza on Tuesday, following a protest from the US news agency and concern from the White House.

Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said he had revoked an earlier order that accused the AP of breaching a new ban on providing rolling footage of Gaza to Qatar-based satellite channel Al Jazeera.

"I have now ordered to cancel the operation and return the equipment to the AP agency," Karhi said in a statement, after Washington called on Israel to reverse the move.

"We've been engaging directly with the government of Israel to express our concerns over this action and to ask them to reverse it," a White House spokesperson said.

Karhi's original order earlier Tuesday said communications ministry inspectors had "confiscated the equipment" of AP on orders approved by the government "in accordance with the law".

AP said Israeli officials had seized its camera and broadcasting equipment at a location in the Israeli town of Sderot that overlooks the northern Gaza Strip.

In a statement issued after the order, the news agency said it "decries in the strongest terms" the move by the Israeli government.

Reacting after Israeli officials ordered the equipment to be returned, it added: "While we are pleased with this development, we remain concerned about the Israeli government's use of the foreign broadcaster law and the ability of independent journalists to operate freely in Israel."

AP said Al Jazeera was among thousands of clients that receive live video feeds from the agency.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said the government "went crazy".

"This is not Al Jazeera, this is an American media outlet that has won 53 Pulitzer Prizes," he wrote on social media platform X.

- 'Attack on press freedom' -

AFP global news director Phil Chetwynd said Israel's initial order was "an attack on press freedom".

"The free flow of verified information and images from reliable sources is vital in the current highly-charged context," he said in a statement.

"We would urge the authorities to immediately reverse this decision and to allow all journalists to work freely and without hindrance."

The United Nations said it was "shocking".

"The Associated Press, of all news organisations, should be allowed to do its work freely and free of any harassment," said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera was taken off the air in Israel this month after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government voted to shut it down over its coverage of the Gaza war.

Al Jazeera's Jerusalem offices were shuttered, its equipment confiscated, and its team's accreditations pulled.

The AP said communications ministry officials arrived at its location in Sderot on Tuesday afternoon and seized the equipment.

It said officials had handed the AP a piece of paper, signed by the communications minister, alleging it was violating the country's new foreign broadcast law.

The ministry later confirmed the incident.

It said the US news agency regularly took images of Gaza from the balcony of a house in Sderot, "including focusing on the activities of IDF (army) soldiers and their location".

"Even though the inspectors of the Ministry of Communications warned them that they were breaking the law and that they should cut off Al Jazeera from receiving their content and not transfer a broadcast to Al Jazeera, they continued to do so," it said.

- 'Outrageous censorship' -

The AP said it had been broadcasting a general view of northern Gaza before its equipment was seized, and that the live feed has generally shown smoke rising over the Palestinian territory.

"The AP complies with Israel's military censorship rules, which prohibit broadcasts of details like troops movements that could endanger soldiers," the agency added.

The Foreign Press Association in Israel said it was "alarmed" by the confiscation of the AP's equipment, calling it "a slippery slope".

It denounced Israel's "dismal" record on press freedom during the Gaza war, and called the move against AP "outrageous censorship".

In the 2024 press freedom index by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Israel ranked 101st out of 180 countries -- dropping four positions from the previous year.

After the order to restore AP's equipment was announced, RSF said on X that it was "good to see a rapid reversal of this outrageous decision, but @AP never should have been blocked".

"The ban on @AlJazeera must also be immediately reversed- and the international community should show the same support it showed today," it added.

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Hamas also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,647 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.