The extensive telecommunication blackout in Gaza during Israel’s continuous bombardment of the Palestinian territory has the potential to conceal mass atrocities, warned the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday.
Internet access and the phone network were completely cut across the Gaza Strip on Friday, nearly three weeks after Israel began bombarding the enclave following an armed attack by Hamas militants that Israeli officials say killed at least 1,400 people, mostly civilians.
The health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip says at least 7,326 people have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory strikes since the October 7 attack, mainly civilians and many of them children.
“Widespread phone and Internet outages occurred in Gaza on October 27, 2023, amid a concerted Israeli bombardment, almost entirely cutting off the 2.2 million residents from the outside world,” HRW said in a statement.
“This information blackout risks providing cover for mass atrocities and contributing to impunity for human rights violations,” Deborah Brown, the group’s senior technology and human rights researcher, said in the statement.
A number of international agencies and NGOs said they had lost touch with their staff in Gaza on Friday, including the UN’s humanitarian agency OCHA.
Its humanitarian coordinator Lynn Hastings said in a statement that UN hospitals and humanitarian operations “can’t continue without communications,” alongside energy, food, water and medications.
The NGO Amnesty International said it had also lost contact with colleagues in Gaza.
“This communications blackout means that it will be even more difficult to obtain critical information and evidence about human rights violations and war crimes being committed against Palestinian civilians in Gaza,” it added.