Israel holds off on threatened shut-down of Al Jazeera locally

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JERUSALEM – Israel signalled on Monday it would hold off on a threatened closure of the local bureau of Al Jazeera, leaving the powerful Qatar-owned satellite station unmentioned in a government decision about emergency media regulations for the Gaza war.

The omission pointed to a balancing act by Israel, which has been angered by Qatari ties to its arch-foe Iran and Hamas, but is looking to Doha to persuade the Palestinian militant group to free scores of hostages held in the Gaza Strip.

A statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet said it had authorised action against Lebanese pro-Iranian channel Al Mayadeen for “making wartime efforts to harm (Israel’s) security interests and to serve the enemy’s goals”.

Though Israel and Lebanon are formally in a decades-old state of war and the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah has joined the current hostilities on the side of Gaza’s Palestinians, Al Mayadeen has been airing reports from inside Israeli territory.

Following the Israeli security cabinet decision, Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi was working with police on a proposed blocking of Al Mayadeen websites and seizure of equipment linked to the station, a ministry spokesperson said.

Karhi also asked the Israeli military chief in the occupied West Bank, another territory where Palestinians seek statehood, to shut down Al Mayadeen offices there, the spokesperson said.

There was no immediate comment from Al Mayadeen.

Asked why Al Jazeera was not cited in the Israeli security cabinet decision, the Communications Ministry spokesperson said: “The security cabinet has not discussed that.”

On Oct. 15, a week after Hamas triggered the Gaza war with a cross-border killing and kidnapping spree in southern Israel, Karhi said he would seek cabinet approval to shut down Al Jazeera’s local operations. He accused the station of pro-Hamas incitement and of exposing Israeli soldiers to attacks.

Al Jazeera and the government in Doha refrained, at the time, from responding to the allegations. Israeli media have since quoted unnamed Netanyahu government officials as saying the time was not right to act against Qatar’s top media outlet.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said on Monday that he still favoured a crackdown on Al Jazeera. Asked in a Kan radio interview if that was diplomatically feasible, he answered: “I have made my opinion and position on the matter known.” REUTERS

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