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Israel says it will return video equipment seized from The Associated Press, hours after shutting down AP's Gaza video feed

Concerns grow over free speech in Israel
Concerns grow over free speech in Israel amid war 03:54

Jerusalem — The Israeli government said it will return a camera and broadcasting equipment it had seized from The Associated Press on Tuesday, reversing course hours after it blocked the news organization's live video of Gaza and faced mounting criticism for interfering with independent journalism. 

Officials accusing the news organization of violating the country's new ban on Al Jazeera. The Qatari satellite channel is among thousands of clients that receive live video feeds from the AP and other news organizations. Israeli officials used the new law to close down the offices of the Qatar-based broadcaster on May 5 and confiscated its equipment, banned the channel's broadcasts, and blocked its websites.

After Israel seized the AP equipment, the Biden administration, journalism organizations and an Israeli opposition leader condemned the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pressured it to reverse the decision.

Israel's communications minister, Shlomo Karhi, said late Tuesday on the social platform X: "I have now ordered to cancel the action and return the equipment to the AP."

Karhi said the defense ministry will undertake a review of news outlets' positioning of live video of Gaza. Officials hadn't previously told AP the positioning of its live camera was an issue. Instead, they repeatedly noted that the images appeared in real-time on Al Jazeera.

The AP denounced the seizure earlier Tuesday. "The Associated Press decries in the strongest terms the actions of the Israeli government to shut down our longstanding live feed showing a view into Gaza and seize AP equipment," said Lauren Easton, vice president of corporate communications at the news organization. "The shutdown was not based on the content of the feed but rather an abusive use by the Israeli government of the country'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."

Officials from the Communications Ministry arrived at the AP location in the southern Israeli town of Sderot on Tuesday afternoon and seized the equipment. They handed the AP a piece of paper, signed by Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, alleging it was violating the country's new foreign broadcaster law.

Israel Palestinians
A man watches smoke rise to the sky after an explosion in the Gaza Strip during Israel's annual Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of nationalistic attacks, as they visit a sightseeing area in Sderot, Southern Israel, May 13, 2024. Leo Correa/AP

Shortly before the equipment was seized, it was broadcasting a general view of northern Gaza. The AP complies with Israel's military censorship rules, which prohibit broadcasts of details like troops movements that could endanger soldiers. The live shot has generally shown smoke rising over the territory.

The seizure followed a verbal order Thursday to cease the live transmission — which the news organization refused to do.

Israel has long had a rocky relationship with Al Jazeera, accusing it of bias against Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called it a "terror channel" that spreads incitement.

Israeli opposition politician Yair Lapid, however, blasted the government's decision to seize the AP's equipment as "an act of madness" and said Netanyahu's far-right coalition government had "gone crazy," adding that the AP, "is not Al Jazeera, this is an American media outlet that has won 53 Pulitzer Prizes."

Al Jazeera is one of the few international news outlets that has remained in Gaza throughout the war, broadcasting scenes of airstrikes and overcrowded hospitals and accusing Israel of massacres. CBS News also has a team inside Gaza, which sends reporting daily on the latest developments in the war.

The war in Gaza began with a Hamas attack in Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw 250 others taken hostage. More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed since then, according to Gaza's Health Ministry, which doesn't distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count.

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