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Israel-Palestine war: Gaza blackout leaves loved ones in the dark

More than two million Palestinians are completely isolated from the rest of the world after Israeli air strikes destroy phone and internet services
A Palestinian sits amid the destruction following Israeli air strikes on al-Shatee camp in Gaza City on 28 October 2023 (AFP)

Palestinians living abroad say they are gripped with fear and anguish after losing contact with extended family members in Gaza, after Israel severed communications with the outside world when it destroyed phone and internet services in the embattled territory.

Already in darkness after most electricity was cut off, more than 2.3 million Palestinians were thrown into complete isolation on Friday when Israel knocked out communications services as its air and ground forces stepped up their attacks on the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian telecoms provider Jawwal said late on Friday that the Israeli bombardment had destroyed "all remaining international routes connecting Gaza to the outside world".

Explosions from continuous air strikes lit up the sky over Gaza City for hours, but the severance of communications meant that the number of casualties from the strikes and details of ground incursions could not immediately be known.

Middle East Eye lost all contact with all its journalists in Gaza on Friday, making it increasingly challenging to document news from the ground.

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Abeer Ayyoub, a freelance journalist and long-time contributor to MEE, describes being left in the dark about the well-being and whereabouts of her loved ones following the heaviest night of bombing yet:

My siblings and I had been discussing the possibility of an imminent ceasefire on our family WhatsApp group but suddenly, they all stopped responding to my messages.

At first, I assumed it was due to the blackout they've been experiencing since day 3 of the war, with internet and phone services limited in Gaza because of heavy bombardment that hit telecommunications providers.

Prior to last night, I could reach my family once every two or three days, while some were unreachable since the the latest hostilities began.

But the situation became terrifying when news reports indicated that Israeli air strikes had not ceased for hours. Israel later announced its intention to begin a ground invasion in certain areas along the barrier fence with Gaza.

Follow Middle East Eye's live coverage of the Israel-Palestine war here

I knew that no one could reach their families in Gaza, but I kept trying to call each family member - hoping they might somehow get signal

I tried for hours but to no avail.

My husband has family in Khan Younis and he was worried about them, although he appeared calmer than I was.

With phones not working, it became challenging for TV journalists to pinpoint the locations of the explosions. We had to rely on rumours circulating on social media, as there were individuals claiming to have internet access via Israeli sim cards that worked near the borders.

One of my friends had a connection due to having an American sim card and she tried to reassure me that there were no bombings near my house, but she couldn't be certain.

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With nine siblings and many nieces and nephews living in different areas, I felt overwhelmed.

Yara, my niece, lives in the northern Gaza Strip and had refused to evacuate her house. I was most worried about her and searched for her husband's family name among the list of people killed in that area.

I couldn't help but think about the children and how they were coping.

Fatin, who had evacuated to al-Nusirat camp after her house in al-Burij was destroyed, had two children with constant fevers due to fear. How were they coping? Siham lived near the seaport, an area hit by multiple artillery shells. Was she still alive, and had she lost any of her children? 

Throughout the night, I watched Al Jazeera, witnessing explosions throughout the Gaza Strip. However, we had no information on the exact locations of these bombings. Even Al Jazeera's own reporters were unable to provide precise details, only mentioning the general area within Gaza.

Upon waking up this morning, I found numerous messages from friends asking if I had been able to reach my family.

Regrettably, I couldn't respond to any of them.

I began scouring the news for information on casualties, hoping that I would not find any of my relatives' names among the reports.

I shared an Instagram story with my friends, stating that I couldn't contact my family, but all I know is that none of them has been reported killed so far.

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