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WhatsApp blocked accounts of Palestinian journalists covering Israel's war on Gaza

Journalists said they received messages from WhatsApp stating their accounts were blocked for breaching community standards
A user updates Facebook's WhatsApp application on his mobile phone in Mumbai, 6 November 2020 (AFP)

Dozens of Palestinian journalists have had their WhatsApp accounts blocked amid media coverage of recent armed confrontations between Israel and Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip.

Journalists from Al Jazeera and the AFP news agency, based in occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip, said they received messages from WhatsApp informing them that their accounts were blocked for breaching community standards.

Tahseen al-Astall, the vice president of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, told AFP that an estimated 100 journalists in Gaza had their WhatsApp accounts blocked.

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Wael al-Dahdouh, Al Jazeera's bureau chief in the Gaza Strip, had his WhatsApp account blocked for three days before being reinstated.

Dahdouh told Al Jazeera he was surprised that his WhatsApp account was blocked on Friday, just when a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions was announced at 2 am local time.

His account was restored on Sunday after the Qatari-backed channel contacted WhatsApp headquarters in Silicon Valley to ask about it.

Dahdouh said that his account was restored but all messages and data which was stored on the application were deleted, including images, numbers and messages.

AFP reported that two of its journalists had their WhatsApp accounts blocked shortly after the 11 days of armed confrontations in the Gaza Strip ended.

'This has affected my work'

Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, was accused by Palestinian officials and digital rights organisations of removing Palestinian content during the latest round of protests in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and inside Israel.

Israel bombed and flattened the al-Jalaa tower, which housed the offices of numerous media production companies and news agencies, including the Associated Press, Al-Jazeera and Middle East Eye, drawing condemnation from media and human rights organisations. 

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate said Israel targeted 33 media organisations, injuring 170 journalists - 70 in the Gaza Strip and 100 in the West Bank, and killing one in Gaza.

Journalists widely use WhatsApp to receive breaking news, images, videos, and statements from the ground, and they join different WhatsApp groups, sometimes run by governments and political organisations, to receive syndicated material and official statements. 

Hassan Slaieh, a freelance journalist in Gaza, told the Associated Press that he thought his WhatsApp account might have been blocked because he was a member of a group called, "Hamas Media."

"This has affected my work and my income because I lost conversations with sources and people," Slaieh told the AP.

During the 11-day Israeli campaign, Israeli air strikes killed 253 Palestinians in Gaza, including 66 children, and wounded 1,948 others.

Rockets from the Gaza Strip killed 12 people in Israel, including one soldier.