On Wednesday, telecom provider Paltel reported a “complete disruption” of communications and internet services in Gaza, marking the second time Israel has cut off Gaza’s telecommunication and internet services in a week. The most recent blackout lasted close to 36 hours, starting on Friday and ending on Sunday.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent Hani Mahmoud, conveying infrequent updates from southern Gaza, stated that the communication cessation spread “waves of concern and fear among residents in the southern part of Gaza.” Mahmoud highlighted the distress faced by families separated by the blackout, mentioning their increasing apprehensions regarding the well-being of their relatives in the northern region.
Humanitarian Efforts Thwarted
The disruption poses significant threats not only to the residents of Gaza but also to the humanitarian aid agencies striving to bring relief to the war-affected area. Agencies find it increasingly challenging to maintain contact with their teams on the ground, thus complicating relief efforts.
- Palestinian Ministry’s Appeal: In light of these disruptions, the Palestinian Ministry of Communications has made a fervent appeal to Egypt, urging the neighboring nation to activate communication stations near the Gaza border and initiate roaming services on Egyptian networks. The ministry emphasized the dire circumstances and the critical need for uninterrupted communication.
- Concerns on Humanitarian Crisis: US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, expressed concerns to the Security Council regarding the communication shutdown in Gaza, noting the potential threats it poses to civilians, UN personnel, and humanitarian workers. She emphasized the potential escalation of the humanitarian crisis due to such blackouts.
Internet Blackouts as a Warfare Tactic
Marwa Fatafta, from the global human rights organization Access Now, accused Israel of using these blackouts to “cover potential war crimes” and described internet blackouts as a tactic to inflict more suffering on the Gazan population. Communication in Gaza has been historically patchy and unreliable, a situation exacerbated by the ongoing conflict. Moreover, damage to infrastructure and fuel shortages have put additional strains on Gaza’s G2 mobile network.
In response to queries about the previous blackout, Israel’s chief military spokesperson refrained from confirming Israel’s involvement but reiterated their commitment to safeguarding their forces. This stance was evident when Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari stated, “We do what we have to do to secure our forces…” without providing more specific details.
Elon Musk’s Starlink Proposal Meets Resistance
In a significant development, Elon Musk proposed offering his Starlink satellite internet service to internationally recognized aid organizations in Gaza. However, this gesture faced strong opposition from Israel, with their Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi suggesting that such services could be exploited by Hamas for “terrorist activities”. Reuters reports a statement by Karhi emphasizing potential conditions for such a service, hinting at the release of abducted Israelis in exchange for any potential collaboration with Starlink.
The Broader Conflict
The war between Israel and Hamas, the group governing Gaza, has intensified since Hamas’s October 7 offensive. This attack involved a considerable force of around 2,500 individuals infiltrating Israel, leading to significant casualties and kidnappings. Israel’s current offensive aims to dismantle Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminate the group, while simultaneously minimizing civilian casualties. Their strategy involves targeting areas with Hamas operations and urging civilians to relocate to southern Gaza.
The humanitarian situation in Gaza is deteriorating, with over half of its 2 million Palestinian residents displaced and resources running low. Despite Israel permitting aid trucks with essential supplies to enter Gaza from Egypt, aid agencies argue that the assistance remains insufficient given the scale of the crisis.
Hamas, on the other hand, has been accused of inflating death toll figures in Gaza, though the group has released a list of names they claim to represent the deceased.
Despite the ongoing conflict and deteriorating humanitarian situation, Hamas and other affiliated groups persist in their rocket attacks on Israel, leading to further displacement of civilians.
In these turbulent times, with the human cost of the conflict rising daily, the recent communications blackout serves as a painful reminder of the profound impacts of war on everyday life.