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OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: 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.

Israel’s 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 the White House had 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.

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Karhi’s original order issued hours earlier on Tuesday said communications ministry inspectors moved in and “confiscated the equipment” of AP on orders approved by the government “in accordance with the law”.

The 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.

“The Associated Press decries in the strongest terms the actions of the Israeli government to shut down our longstanding live feed,” the AP said in a statement issued after the earlier order.

It blamed “an abusive use” of Israel’s new foreign broadcaster law.

“We urge the Israeli authorities to return our equipment and enable us to reinstate our live feed immediately so we can continue to provide this important visual journalism to thousands of media outlets around the world,” the agency said.

AP, in its own news report, said Al Jazeera was among thousands of clients that receive live video feeds from the agency.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid reacted to the decision on X, saying the government “went crazy”.

“This is not Al Jazeera, this is an American media outlet that has won 53 Pulitzer Prizes,” he wrote.

‘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.

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“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 a “shocking” decision.

“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 had arrived at its location in Sderot on Tuesday afternoon and seized the equipment.

The ministry later confirmed the incident in a statement.

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.

“Israel’s move today is a slippery slope,” it said in a statement, warning it could lead to the blocking of other international news agencies’ Gaza coverage.

It denounced Israel’s “dismal” record on press freedom during the Gaza war.

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

“After banning Al Jazeera, Israel goes after AP. RSF denounces the seizure of a news agency’s camera and the shut down of a live feed showing a view of Gaza … This is outrageous censorship,” the watchdog said on X.

Israel’s aggression against Hamas has killed at least 35,647 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.

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