The Islamist terror group Hamas has blocked two Saudi-owned news networks, Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath, from operating in the Gaza Strip over allegations of false reporting, multiple sources said Thursday.
Hamas’s interior ministry and Al-Arabiya both confirmed the ban, which was imposed over a report alleging that Hamas had arrested several of its members for collaborating with Israel.
A journalist who works with Al-Arabiya, who requested anonymity, said the order bars “anyone or any business from providing services” to either network.
Al-Arabiya’s office in Gaza was previously closed over a report concerning alleged ties between Hamas and Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
But it and Al-Hadath, which are Saudi-owned but based in Dubai, still work with freelancers in the Palestinian enclave.
Hamas, which seized power in Gaza from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah, relies on substantial aid from Qatar, which remains the target of a Saudi-led regional blockade.
In a statement, the Palestinian journalists union denounced the reporting ban, saying “restrictions on press freedom and repeated shutdown of media” in Gaza were “contrary to national values and principles.”
Also Thursday, Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk confirmed the reports that a member of the terror group collaborated with and subsequently defected to Israel.
A Tuesday report in Al-Arabiya said Hamas had arrested 16 members of a spy ring collaborating with Israel. While Hamas routinely announces the arrests of alleged collaborators, that ring was reportedly composed of members of Hamas’s own military wing.
Al-Arabiya further reported that Israel’s Mossad spy agency had recently facilitated the escape of senior commander Mohammad Abu Ajwa, who had previously led Hamas’s naval special forces, after Abu Ajwa had spied for Israel for years. The arrests of the remaining collaborators took place after Abu Ajwa’s escape, Al-Arabiya said.
While Hamas denied the report on Tuesday, Abu Marzouk appeared to confirm for the first time that the collaborators, including the one who had fled, were members of his group. Marzouk denied, however, that the collaborators were senior officials, or that they were operating in concert.
Israeli authorities have yet to comment publicly on any of the stories in the Arabic press.
Hamas officials first claimed in early July that their group had arrested several members of an “Israeli-directed” spy ring planning “sabotage” in the Gaza Strip.
Since then, Arabic-language media have been buzzing with alleged revelations about Israeli-directed espionage in the Gaza Strip and traitors at the highest levels of Hamas.
In its denial of the Al-Arabiya report on Tuesday, Hamas accused Saudi Arabia of “lies” and of “closing ranks with the Zionist occupation.”