Israel has cut Gaza’s telecommunication and internet services for a second time despite humanitarian aid agencies warning that such blackouts severely disrupt their work in an already dire situation in the war-torn Palestinian enclave.
Telecom provider Paltel reported a “complete disruption” of communications and internet services in Gaza on Wednesday morning.
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The disruption comes after Israel imposed a near-complete communications blackout on Gaza from Friday to Sunday that lasted close to 36 hours.
Al Jazeera’s Hani Mahmoud, providing sporadic updates via satellite from Khan Younis, southern Gaza, said on Wednesday that the blackout sent “waves of concern and fear among people and evacuees in the southern part of Gaza who still have family members remaining in the northern part and Gaza City”.
“This blackout is very tragic for people here and an indication that something serious is going on,” he reported. The lack of communication only intensifies people’s concerns “about what’s going to happen to their relatives and loved ones”, he added.
“The difficult part is the inability to know exactly what’s going on. It becomes increasingly difficult to understand the situation in Gaza City and the northern part as Israeli tanks move to separate the north from the south.”
“The blackout also puts the work of humanitarian agencies that try to help people on the ground in jeopardy as they lose contact with their team members. Things are becoming very difficult.”
In a statement, the Palestinian Ministry of Communications appealed to neighbouring Egypt to operate communication stations near the Gaza border and activate roaming service on Egyptian networks, stressing that “the critical humanitarian situation that cannot bear the loss of communication for any longer”.
‘Potential war crimes’
Israel used the previous shutdown to “cover potential war crimes as they started their ground invasion”, said Marwa Fatafta, the Middle East and North Africa policy and advocacy manager at Access Now, a global human rights organisation.
Israel is using internet blackouts as a “warfare tactic to induce more pain on the population”, Fatafta told Al Jazeera.
Even outside the blackouts, communications in Gaza is “sporadic and unreliable”, she added, with Gaza’s G2 mobile network “crushed further” by fuel shortages and damage to infrastructure.
On Monday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the Security Council that the United States made clear to Israel that it was concerned about a shutdown of communications in the Gaza Strip.
“A shutdown of telecommunication imperils the lives of civilians, UN personnel and humanitarian workers and risks exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” she said.
During the previous blackout, Israel’s chief military spokesperson declined to say whether Israel was behind it but said it would do whatever needed to protect its forces.
Asked whether Israel had knocked out mobile services at the start of the ground offensive that began on Friday night, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said: “We do what we have to do to secure our forces for as long as we must, temporary or permanent, as much as we need to and we will not say anything further about that.”
On Saturday, Elon Musk said he would offer his Starlink satellite internet service to “internationally recognised aid organisations” in Gaza, prompting protests by Israel.