After his second in command refused to personally deliver a letter on his behalf to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and reports of communication being cut off at the highest levels of the Palestinian Authority, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has moved to censor Palestinian websites that are critical of his leadership.
Ma’an News Agency in the Palestinian territories is reporting that at least 8 websites have been taken offline by PalTel, the Palestinian telecommunications company, using specialized software, under the direction of Abbas.
The Algemeiner reported on Monday that Abbas and PA President Salam Fayyad are not speaking with each other, following Fayyad’s decision to back out of a meeting where he was to personally deliver a letter to Netanyahu on Abbas’s behalf.
The current decision to block websites critical of Abbas “marks a major expansion of the government’s online powers,” wrote Ma’an. “Experts say it is the biggest shift toward routine Internet censorship in the Palestinian Authority’s history.”
The news comes a day after the United States sanctioned internet companies in Syria and Iran over their roles in assisting their respective governments in opposing internal dissent. The Obama administration said on Monday that the companies they are targeting are helping to “facilitate grave human rights abuses”.
When asked about the Palestinian Authority’s reported blocking of information, the U.S. State Department said it is “concerned about any reports regarding the use of technologies to restrict access to information. The United States advocates Internet freedom.”