Hamas slammed the social media giant Facebook for closing down over a hundred pages belonging or sympathetic to the terror group in control of the Gaza Strip.
The closures took place on Thursday, in light of a social media campaign by Hamas to celebrate the man who first manufactured bombs for it in the early 1990s, Yahya Ayyash, known as “the engineer.” Ayyash was assassinated by Israel 21 years ago on Thursday.
“We condemn the arbitrary measures taken by Facebook management against the pages and accounts supporting the Hamas movement. We affirm that those pages have the right to express their points of view just as anyone else does,” wrote Hamas spokesman Husam Badran in a statement posted on the terror group’s website.
Badran called on “Palestinian activists and Palestinian news sites with Facebook pages to search for effective replacements” for Facebook.
Hamas said a total of 90 Facebook pages belonging to Hamas or sites sympathetic to the group were taken down, as well as another 30 personal pages belonging to individuals.
Other Palestinian news sites on Twitter said over 200 pro-Hamas accounts were closed by Facebook since Thursday,
الفيسبوك يغلق أكثر من 200 حساب لصفحات ونشطاء مؤيدون للقضية الفلسطينية pic.twitter.com/hheAqi1qYL
— شبكة فلسطين للحوار (@paldf) January 8, 2017
On Thursday, official Hamas media and sites sympathetic to the group launched a social media campaign commemorating the 21st anniversary of the assassination of Ayyash with the slogan “Be like Ayyash.”
Ayyash was assassinated by Israel in 1996 by a remotely detonated cellphone given to the bomb maker by a close friend who had been in the service of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency.
Hamas has long accused Facebook of colluding with Israel against it and suppressing free speech for Palestinians.
Israel has accused Facebook of facilitating Palestinian incitement against Israelis, especially following a wave of hundreds of attacks that began in October 2015, which security services said was fueled by online incitement.
In April, Facebook shut down the Facebook page for the spokesperson of Hamas’s military wing the Qassam Brigades, only a day after it was opened.
However, despite the closures of many Hamas-linked Facebook accounts on Thursday, the official page of the Qassam Brigades, considered a terror group by most Western governments, is still online.
Ayyash continues to be lionized not just by Hamas supporters but also by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, which on Thursday also published posts on Facebook and Twitter commemorating the death of “the engineer.”
“The pledge of Fatah will remain the pledge of the martyrs,” read Thursday’s post on Fatah’s official Facebook page commemorating Ayyash.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the so-called Facebook bill, which would allow the state to seek court orders to force the social media giant to remove certain content based on police recommendations, passed its first reading in the Knesset.
The bill was proposed by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in July, two weeks after the two met with Facebook officials in the Knesset.
The government says the bill will only be invoked in cases of suspected incitement, where there is a real possibility that the material in question endangers the public or national security.
According to a spokesman for Erdan, Facebook recently agreed to remove just 23 out of 74 pages brought to its attention by Israel for spreading alleged Palestinian incitement. “Their policy of removing [content] is very, very, very strict and the bar is set very high,” the spokesman told The Times of Israel in July.
Additionally, in April, families of five Americans murdered or injured in recent Palestinian terror attacks in Israel filed a billion-dollar lawsuit against Facebook for failing to ban the Gaza-based terror group Hamas from using its social media platform.
“Facebook has knowingly provided material support and resources to Hamas in the form of Facebook’s online social media network platform and communication services,” a press release issued by the plaintiffs said. “Hamas has used and relied on Facebook’s online social network platform and communications services as among its most important tools to facilitate and carry out its terrorist activity.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.