Studies Reveal China’s Dominant Position in High-Tech Minerals

New clean energy technologies like solar power and electric vehicles are expected to remake the global energy industry. Trillions of dollars used to drill and ship oil and gas will instead be spent finding and processing the specialized minerals used to make high-tech gear including advanced electric generators and powerful, compact batteries.Energy analysts say this will challenge the United States, which will likely need to import vastly more minerals like cobalt, lithium and aluminum, at the same time that China has increased its control over the supply of some key resources.People cool off in the beach near the mining pipeline “Puerto Coloso” of the “Escondida” cooper mine in Antofagasta, Chile, Feb. 16, 2017.A VOA examination of U.S. government data shows how China has become the main supplier for some of the most important raw materials that Western countries import, giving Beijing leverage over the materials that go into everything from advanced fighter jets to solar panels.Not only has Beijing bought up some of the world’s biggest mines for these minerals, the country also has invested heavily in the processing facilities that refine the raw materials into industrially-useful products, strengthening Beijing’s position in global supply chains.Beijing has already given the world reason to worry about its reliability as a global supplier. In 2011, it used its position as the top global supplier of rare earth metals to cut exports, driving up prices. China’s critics say Beijing’s dominant position in so-called “critical minerals” gives them similar leverage.Aerial view of evaporation pools of the new state-owned lithium extraction complex, in the southern zone of the Uyuni Salt Flat, Bolivia, on July 10, 2019.35 critical mineralsThe United States has designated A man watches a conveyor belt loaded with chunks of raw cobalt after a first transformation at a plant in Lubumbashi, Congo, on Feb. 16, 2018, before being exported, mainly to China, to be refined.Chinese dominance in U.S. allies’ supply chainsOther Western countries have different lists of minerals considered critical to their economies. Among the lists of Australia, U.K. and Canada, rare earth minerals account for only one of the 24, 41 and 31 critical minerals, respectively.  The European Union classifies light and heavy rare earths as two separate critical elements on its 30 Critical Raw Materials (CRM) list.A study published last year by the European Commission’s Joint Research Center, a science and technology service agency, found that the production of a Rafale fighter aircraft requires a total of 16 CRMs, of which only three are rare earth elements. Although each country makes up its own list of “critical minerals” based on its strategic needs, China is a dominant supplier in all of the lists.In the EU’s list, China is the largest source of imports for 10 minerals. Among the 24 critical minerals identified by the Australian government in its Critical Minerals Prospectus 2020 report, China is listed as the largest producer of 11 of them.   In the U.K.’s Risk List, China is the leading producer of 23 minerals.Similar findings were reported by Chinese researchers as well.  A study published by China Geological Survey stated that “after combing through the list of Critical Minerals in the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and other countries, it can be seen that half or more of the country’s main producing countries and main sources of imports are our country.”The 2019 report said that of the 35 key minerals in the U.S., the largest supplier of 13 CMs is China, and China is also the largest producer of 19 CMs.This story originated in VOA’s Mandarin Service. 


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WHO Calls for Unhindered Access to Gaza for Medical Supplies, Staff

The World Health Organization is calling for unhindered access to Gaza to provide essential medicine and medical treatment for Palestinians caught up in the 11-day Israel-Hamas conflict.Violent clashes in Gaza between Israel and the extremist Islamist Hamas group have killed hundreds of people, injured thousands and caused extensive damage to infrastructure, including health facilities.The World Health Organization says 30 health facilities were damaged, including the destruction of the Hala Al-Shawa primary health care clinic. It says Gaza has just 46% of essential drugs and 33% of essential medical supplies in stock.U.N. officials who recently visited Gaza warn damage to the territory’s wastewater infrastructure has resulted in large volumes of untreated sewage water being discharged into the sea, creating health hazards and pollution.WHO spokesperson Fadela Chaib says it is critical that border crossings between Israel and Gaza be opened to allow regular access for humanitarian, medical and development supplies into the Palestinian area.“WHO is calling for unhindered access for humanitarian and essential supplies and staff into Gaza, and the passage of referral patients out of Gaza … as this referral can be really life-saving,” she said. “We have around 600 referrals that were affected due to the closure of the crossing during the escalation.”Chaib says the 600 people who need to be evacuated for treatment in an Israeli hospital include patients who suffer from chronic illnesses, such as cancer, and those who were injured during the recent escalation of violence.The WHO is appealing for $7 million to provide essential medical care in Gaza over the next six months. Its priorities include trauma and emergency care, mental health, and psychosocial services.


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East African Stability – Motives for China’s Presence

Ambassador David H. Shinn and CSIS Africa Program Director Judd Devermont take a look at new developments in volatile East Africa, where insurgencies continue despite an ongoing concerted multinational effort to stop them, along with strong words between Washington and Addis Ababa. Encounter host Jeffrey Young also looks at China’s growing presence in East Africa – generosity, but what is the ultimate price?


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US/Middle East

Issues in the News moderator Kim Lewis discusses with senior correspondent for Marketplace Nancy Marshall-Genzer and VOA White House bureau chief Steve Herman the top stories of the week, including the visit to the Middle East by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the ramifications of Belarus grounding a Ryanair flight and arresting an opposition journalist, the convening of a grand jury to decide whether or not to indict former President Donald Trump, the status of police reform legislation in the U.S. and more.


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SolarWinds Hackers Targeted 150 Organizations with Phishing, Microsoft Says

The state-backed Russian cyber spies behind the SolarWinds hacking campaign launched a targeted spear-phishing assault on U.S. and foreign government agencies and think tanks this week using an email marketing account of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Microsoft said.
The effort targeted about 3,000 email accounts at more than 150 different organizations, at least a quarter of them involved in international development, humanitarian and human rights work, Microsoft Vice President Tom Burt said in a blog post late Thursday.
It did not say what portion of the attempts may have led to successful intrusions.
The cybersecurity firm Volexity, which also tracked the campaign but has less visibility into email systems than Microsoft , said in a post  that relatively low detection rates of the phishing emails suggest the attacker was “likely having some success in breaching targets.”  
Burt said the campaign appeared to be a continuation of multiple efforts by the Russian hackers to “target government agencies involved in foreign policy as part of intelligence gathering efforts.” He said the targets spanned at least 24 countries.
The hackers gained access to USAID’s account at Constant Contact, an email marketing service, Microsoft said. The authentic-looking phishing emails dated May 25 purport to contain new information on 2020 election fraud claims and include a link to malware that allows the hackers to “achieve persistent access to compromised machines.”
Microsoft said in a  separate blog post that the campaign is ongoing and evolved out of several waves of spear-phishing campaigns it first detected in January that escalated to the mass-mailings of this week.
While the SolarWinds campaign, which infiltrated dozens of private sector companies and think tanks as well as at least nine U.S. government agencies, was supremely stealthy and went on for most of 2020 before being detected in December by the cybersecurity firm FireEye, this campaign is what cybersecurity researchers call noisy. Easy to detect.
Microsoft noted the two mass distribution methods used: the SolarWinds hack exploited the supply chain of a trusted technology provider’s software updates; this campaign piggybacked on a mass email provider.
With both methods, the company said, the hackers undermine trust in the technology ecosystem.


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Facebook Won’t Remove Posts Claiming COVID-19 is Human-made

Facebook says it will no longer remove claims that COVID-19 is human-made or manufactured “in light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts.”There is rising pressure worldwide to investigate the origins of the pandemic, including the possibility that it came from a lab. Since the pandemic began, Facebook has been changing what it allows on the topic and what it bans. In February, it announced a host of new claims it would be prohibiting — including that COVID-19 was created in a Chinese lab. Other claims it added at the time included the false notion that vaccines are not effective or that they are toxic.Lisa Fazio, a professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University, said the reversal shows the difficulty of fact-checking in general, particularly with something unprecedented like the coronavirus, when experts can disagree and change their minds with new evidence.“It’s one reason that content moderation shouldn’t be static, scientific consensus changes over time,” Fazio said. “It’s also a reminder to be humble and that for some questions the best current answer is “we don’t know yet” or “it’s possible, but experts think it’s unlikely.”Facebook’s reversal comes as President Joe Biden ordered U.S. intelligence officials to “redouble” their efforts to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, including any possibility the trail might lead to a Chinese laboratory. After months of minimizing these claims as a fringe theory, the Biden administration is joining worldwide pressure for China to be more open about the outbreak. It aims to head off GOP complaints that Biden has not been tough enough and to use the opportunity to press China on alleged obstruction.“We’re continuing to work with health experts to keep pace with the evolving nature of the pandemic and regularly update our policies as new facts and trends emerge,” said Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of integrity, in a statement Wednesday.Facebook does not usually ban misinformation outright on its platform, instead adding fact-checks by outside parties, which includes The Associated Press, to debunked claims. The two exceptions have been around elections and COVID-19.


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Tanker’s Impossible Voyage Signals New Sanction Evasion Ploy

The Cyprus-flagged oil tanker Berlina was drifting near the Caribbean island of Dominica earlier this year when tracking technology showed it stopping in its tracks and in two minutes turning around 180 degrees.It was an amazingly quick pivot since the 274-meter ship needs roughly 10 times that amount of time to perform such a maneuver.Even more intriguing: Around the same time the Berlina was pinging its location at sea, it was physically spotted loading crude oil in nearby Venezuela despite U.S. sanctions against such trading.Meanwhile, nine other ships, some connected to the same Greece-based owner of the Berlina, were digitally monitored moving nearby at an identical speed and direction with sudden draft changes, indicating they had somehow been loaded full of crude though apparently out at sea.The Berlina’s impossible journey could represent the next frontier of how rogue states and their enablers manipulate GPS-like tracking systems to hide their movements while circumventing sanctions, maritime experts say.Evading detectionIn recent years, as the U.S. has expanded economic sanctions and tracking technology has become more widely used, companies have adopted a number of techniques to evade detection. Most involve a ship going dark, by turning off its mandatory automated identification system or by “spoofing” the identity and registration information of another ship, sometimes a sunken or scrapped vessel.Windward, a maritime intelligence agency whose data is used by the U.S. to investigate sanctions violations, carried out a detailed investigation into the Berlina. It considers the movements of the Berlina and the other ships to be one of the first instances of orchestrated manipulation in which vessels went dark for an extended period while off-ship agents used machines to hide their activities by making it appear they were transmitting their locations normally.Militaries around the world have been using the same electronic warfare technology for decades. But it is only now cropping up in commercial shipping, with serious national security, environmental and maritime safety implications.“We believe this is going to spread really fast because it’s so efficient and easy,” Matan Peled, co-founder of Windward, said in an interview. “And it’s not just a maritime challenge. Imagine what would happen if small planes started adopting this tactic to hide their true locations?”Under a United Nations maritime treaty, ships of over 300 tons have been required since 2004 to use the automated identification system to avoid collisions and assist rescues in the event of a spill or accident at sea. Tampering with its use is a major breach that can lead to consequences for a vessel and its owners.But the maritime safety mechanism has also become a powerful mechanism for tracking ships engaged in rogue activities like illegal fishing or transporting sanctioned crude oil to and from places under U.S. or international sanctions like Venezuela, Iran and North Korea.In the cat-and-mouse game that has ensued, the advent of digital ghosts leaving false tracks could give the bad actors the upper hand, said Russ Dallen, the Miami-based head of Caracas Capital Markets brokerage, who tracks maritime activity near Venezuela.“It’s pretty clear the bad guys will learn from these mistakes and next time will leave a digital trail that more closely resembles the real thing,” Dallen said. “The only way to verify its true movement will be to get a physical view of the ship, which is time consuming and expensive.”Manipulation or malfunction?The Berlina never reported a port call while floating in the Caribbean. Nonetheless, on March 5, the draft indicated by its identification system went from 9 meters to 17 meters, suggesting it had been loaded with oil.Was it manipulation or a malfunction?While the Berlina’s voyage remains something of a mystery, Vortexa, a London-based energy cargo tracker, determined the tanker had loaded at the Venezuelan port of Jose on March 2 and then headed toward Asia. Separately, Windward also confirmed the crude delivery through two sources.Two months later, on May 5, the Berlina discharged its crude in a ship-to-ship transfer to a floating storage vessel, the CS Innovation, according to Vortexa. The CS Innovation remains off the coast of Malaysia where the transfer took place and has undertaken several ship-to-ship transfers in the interim, making it nearly impossible to know where Venezuela’s oil will end up.Adding to suspicions, the Berlina and at least four of the nine other vessels involved in the Caribbean voyage earlier this year are connected to the same Greek company, according to Windward. And all 10 vessels switched flags — another common ploy used to make it harder to keep track of ships — to Cyprus in the four months prior to the manipulation of the fleet’s tracking information.The AP was unable to locate any contact information for the Berlina’s ship manager or owner, both of which are based in the port city of Pireaus, near Athens.Peled said the Berlina’s activities may never have been detected if not for a tip it received from an external source that it wouldn’t identify.But the know-how gained from the investigation has allowed it to identify other recent examples of location tampering, including one in January when a ship it did not identify was spotted loading Iranian crude at Kharg island while broadcasting its location out at sea somewhere else in the Persian Gulf.While the U.S. government has additional resources to ferret out such deceptive practices, doing so will require extra effort.“It suggests the length to which rogue actors are willing to go, to hide their activities,” said Marshall Billingslea, an assistant Treasury secretary for terrorist financing during the Trump administration and former deputy undersecretary of the Navy. “It’s a worrisome trend and given the huge volume of maritime traffic will introduce a lot more noise into the system.”


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3 Crew Missing After Ships Collide in Japanese Strait

A freighter sank in a Japanese strait early Friday after colliding with another ship, and three crew members from the cargo ship are missing.Nine of the 12 crewmembers from the Japanese freighter have been rescued, and the coast guard was searching for others in waters roughly 4 kilometers north of the coast of Imabari in Ehime prefecture.The Byakko collided Thursday night with a chemical tanker operated by a South Korean company, and the collision caused the Byakko to sink.Ulsan Pioneer tanker was run by South Korean firm Heung-A Shipping Co. with 13 crew members, including Korean and Myanmar nationals, the coast guard said in a statement. It departed a port in China on Tuesday for Osaka, Japan, conveying acetic acid.None of the Ulsan Pioneer’s crew members was injured.  The Byakko was operated by Kobe-based Prince Kaiun Co. and was carrying car parts overnight to Kanda, a town in Fukuoka prefecture.On average, around 400 vessels a day pass through the Kurushima Strait in southern Japan, where the collision occurred.  


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Russia, Iran Leading Disinformation Charge on Facebook

Russia and Iran are leading the way when it comes to pushing bad information on one of the world’s most popular social media platforms, and new analysis finds they are getting savvier at evading detection. Facebook issued a report Wednesday looking at so-called coordinated inauthentic behavior over the past four years, warning that despite ongoing efforts to identify and remove disinformation networks, there is no let-up in attempts to exploit or weaponize conflict and crisis. “Threat actors have adapted their behavior and sought cover in the gray spaces between authentic and inauthentic engagement and political activity,” according to the Facebook report, which looked at the more than 150 networks from more than 50 countries that its security teams took down from 2017 to 2020. “We know they will continue to look for new ways to circumvent our defenses,” the report added, noting disinformation efforts were evenly split between foreign and domestic efforts. “Domestic IO also continues to push the boundaries of acceptable online behavior worldwide” per @Facebook “About half of the influence operations we’ve removed since 2017–including in #Moldova, #Honduras, #Romania, #UK, US, #Brazil & #India–were conducted by locals…” pic.twitter.com/e2pLpgLNaJ— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) May 26, 2021 Russia, Iran influence efforts Overall, Russia was the biggest purveyor of disinformation, according to the analysis, with 27 identified influence operations during the four-year timeframe. Of those, 15 were connected to the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) or other entities linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. US Hits Back at Russian Election Disinformation Ring New sanctions target the ‘inner circle’ of Ukrainian politician Andrii Derkach, previously outed by U.S. officials as a long-time Russian agent Another four Russian networks were traced to the Kremlin’s intelligence services and two more originated with Russian media sites. Iran was second on the list, with 23 inauthentic networks, nine of which were connected to the government or Iranian state broadcasters. Myanmar ranked third, with nine disinformation networks, followed by the United States and Ukraine. NEW: #Russia, #Iran#Myanmar top @Facebook’s list of sources for influence ops/ Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior in new report covering 2017-2020US is 4th, #Ukraine is 5th pic.twitter.com/X2Z45AqUO2— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) May 26, 2021Facebook said the culprits in the United States and Ukraine included public relations firms, fringe political actors, and in the case of Ukraine, two political parties. China’s ‘strategic communication’ China, accused by U.S. intelligence officials for running multiple, intensive influence operations, did not make Facebook’s list of illicit disinformation networks, but not because Beijing was not active. Outgoing US Intel Chief Warns China Seeking Global Domination Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe has repeatedly sounded alarms about Beijing’s efforts, but now says China is prepared for an ‘open-ended period of confrontation’ with US “The China-origin activity on our platform manifested very differently than IO [influence operations] from other foreign actors, and the vast majority of it did not constitute CIB [Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior],” the Facebook report said. “Much of it was strategic communication using overt state-affiliated channels [e.g. state-controlled media, official diplomatic accounts] or large-scale spam activity that included primarily lifestyle or celebrity clickbait and also some news and political content.” #Election2020: “In the year leading up to the US 2020 election, we exposed over a dozen CIB operations targeting US audiences, including an equal number of networks originating from #Russia, #Iran, & the #UnitedStates itself” per @Facebookpic.twitter.com/MISQHnJigc— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) May 26, 2021The Facebook report warned, however, that catching sophisticated disinformation actors like China and Russia is getting more difficult. “They are showing more discipline to avoid careless mistakes,” the report said. “Some are also getting better at avoiding language discrepancies.” Amplifying, outsourcing disinformation Facebook further warned that countries like Russia and China “are getting better at blurring the lines between foreign and domestic activity by co-opting unwitting [but sympathetic] domestic groups to amplify their narratives.” Another concerning trend identified in the Facebook report: outsourcing. “Over the past four years, we have investigated and removed influence operations conducted by commercial actors—media, marketing and public relations companies, including in Myanmar, the U.S., the Philippines, Ukraine, the UAE [United Arab Emirates] & Egypt,” according to the report. The report said despite a growing number of influence operations and their growing sophistication, many of them are being identified and taken down more quickly than in the past. But Nathaniel Gleicher, the head of Facebook security policy, said the social media platform can only do so much by itself. “Countering IO is a whole-of-society challenge. Defenders are most effective when gov’ts, industry, and civil society work together,” Gleicher wrote on Twitter. “We know threat actors are continuing to innovate, so we can’t take our foot off the gas now,” he added. “We have to keep pressing to stay ahead of adversarial innovation in 2021 and beyond.” 
 


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Family of US Journalist Jailed in Myanmar Calls for His Safe Return

U.S. journalist Danny Fenster was imprisoned in Yangon on Monday. His family has been given no information as to why the editor of Frontier Myanmar was detained. Fenster is one of dozens of journalists arrested since Myanmar’s military seized power in February.Producer: Esha Sarai. Contributor: Jessica Jerreat.


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WhatsApp Files Lawsuit in India over New Laws That Impact User Privacy

WhatsApp has filed a lawsuit challenging the Indian government’s new rules that require the Facebook-owned messaging platform to make people’s messages traceable, a move it says would undermine the privacy of users.The lawsuit was filed as India brought sweeping new regulations into force on Wednesday to make social media and technology companies, that have tens of millions of users in the country, more accountable for content on their platform.One of the new rules would require messaging platforms to identify the “first originator of information” when authorities demand it. WhatsApp wants that regulation blocked saying that it undermines citizens’ fundamental right to privacy.In a statement issued after the lawsuit was filed, the government said it respects the right to privacy as a fundamental right but “no Fundamental Right, including the Right to Privacy, is absolute and it is subject to reasonable restrictions.”The statement by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said the requirement to disclose the origin of a particular message will only arise in the case of “prevention, investigation or punishment” of very serious offences.With over 40 million users, India is one of the biggest markets for the messaging platform. It has said that it is committed to protecting the privacy of people’s personal messages.“Technology and privacy experts have determined that traceability breaks end-to-end encryption and would severely undermine the privacy of billions of people who communicate digitally,” WhatsApp says in a blog post on its website. It said that a government “that chooses to mandate traceability is effectively mandating a new form of mass surveillance.”Technology experts in New Delhi called the lawsuit by WhatsApp significant.“This is one of the most significant lawsuits for privacy and it has implications not just for Indian users but globally. What will be debated in court is — can privacy of all users be compromised because there might be a legitimate demand from law enforcement agencies for information on one user or one message,” said Nikhil Pahwa, a digital rights activist and founder of technology publication Medianama. “Basically many governments around the world don’t want these kind of encrypted platforms because these platforms are blind to them and do not allow mass surveillance.”FILE – Rohitash Repswal, a digital marketer, shows a software tool that appears to automate the process of sending messages to WhatsApp users, on a screen inside his office in New Delhi, India, May 8, 2019.The sweeping new rules that were announced in February give the government more power to order social media companies, digital media and streaming platforms to remove content that it considers unlawful and require them to help with police investigations in identifying people who post “misinformation.” The employees of the companies in India can be held criminally liable for failing to comply with the government’s requests.Social media companies in India have been facing a tougher environment as the government seeks to regulate content posted online, which has become one of the most important spaces to express dissenting views.A spokesman for the opposition Congress Party, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, said the new rules were “extremely dangerous” for free speech and creativity, “unless extreme restraint is exercised” in implementing them.Critics accuse the government of trying to stifle online criticism and point to its requests to Twitter last month to remove several tweets including some that were critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic ravaging India. The government had said the messages could incite panic and were misinformation.Police also turned up at the local offices of Twitter in New Delhi on Monday to serve notice to the company concerning an investigation into the tagging of some government official’s tweets as “manipulated media.” 


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Gaza-based Journalists in Hamas Chat Blocked From Facebook-owned WhatsApp

A few hours after the latest cease-fire took effect in the Gaza Strip, a number of Palestinian journalists in the coastal enclave found they were blocked from accessing WhatsApp messenger — a crucial tool used to communicate with sources, editors and the world beyond the blockaded strip.  The Associated Press reached out to 17 journalists in Gaza who confirmed their Whatsapp accounts had been blocked since Friday. By midday Monday, only four journalists — working for Al Jazeera — confirmed their accounts had been restored.The incident marks the latest puzzling move concerning WhatsApp’s owner Facebook Inc. that’s left Palestinian users or their allies bewildered as to why they’ve been targeted by the company, or if indeed they’d been singled out for censorship at all.Twelve of the 17 journalists contacted by the AP said they had been part of a WhatsApp group that disseminates information related to Hamas military operations. Hamas, which rules over the Gaza Strip, is viewed as a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States, where WhatsApp owner Facebook is headquartered.It’s unclear if the journalists were targeted because they’d been following that group’s announcements on WhatsApp.  Hamas runs Gaza’s Health Ministry, which has a WhatsApp group followed by more than 80 people, many of them journalists. That group, for example, has not been blocked.  Hassan Slaieh, a freelance journalist in Gaza whose WhatsApp account is blocked, said he thinks his account might have been targeted because he was on a group called Hamas Media.”This has affected my work and my income because I lost conversations with sources and people,” Slaieh said.  Al Jazeera’s chief correspondent in Gaza, Wael al-Dahdouh, said his access to WhatsApp was blocked around dawn on Friday before it was reinstated Monday. He said journalists subscribe to Hamas groups only to get information needed to do journalistic work.A WhatsApp spokesperson said the company bans accounts to comply with its policies “to prevent harm as well as applicable law.” The company said it has been in touch with media outlets over the last week about its practices. “We will reinstate journalists if any were impacted,” the company said.  Israeli Missiles Destroy Gaza Building Housing Foreign Media OutletsAssociated Press says the ‘world will know less about’ escalating violence in Gaza because of attack on buildingAl Jazeera said that when it sought information regarding its four journalists in Gaza impacted by the blockage, they were told by Facebook that the company had blocked the numbers of groups based out of Gaza and consequently the cell phone numbers of Al Jazeera journalists were part of the groups they had blocked.Among those affected by the WhatsApp blockage are two Agence France-Presse journalists. The Paris-based international news service told the AP it is working with WhatsApp to understand what the problem is and to restore their accounts.The 11-day war caused widespread destruction across Gaza  with 248 Palestinians, including 66 children and 39 women, killed in the fighting. Israel says 12 people in Israel, including two children, also died.It’s not the first time journalists have been suddenly barred from WhatsApp. In 2019, a number of journalists in Gaza had their accounts blocked without explanation. The accounts of those working with international media organizations were restored after contacting the company.  Facebook and its photo and video-sharing platform Instagram were criticized this month for removing posts and deleting accounts by users posting about protests against efforts to evict Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. It prompted  an open letter signed by 30 organizations demanding to know why the posts had been removed.Gaza Diary: Shouts, a Hurried Evacuation, and Then the Bombs Came AP journalist details the destruction of the building housing his officesThe New York Times also reported that some 100 WhatsApp groups were used by Jewish extremists in Israel for the purpose of committing violence against Palestinian citizens of Israel.  WhatsApp said it does not have access to the contents of people’s personal chats, but that they ban accounts when information is reported they believe indicates a user may be involved in causing imminent harm. The company said it also responds to “valid legal requests from law enforcement for the limited information available to us.”The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, or 7amleh, said in a report published this month that Facebook accepted 81% of requests made by Israel’s Cyber Unit to remove Palestinian content last year. It found that in 2020, Twitter suspended dozens of accounts of Palestinian users based on information from the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs.Al-Dahdouh, the Al Jazeera correspondent, said although his account was restored, his past history of chats and messages was erased.  “The groups and conversations were back, but content is erased, as if you are joining a new group or starting a new conversation,” he said. “I have lost information, images, numbers, messages and communications.”Al Jazeera said its journalists in Gaza had their WhatsApp accounts blocked by the host without prior notification.”Al Jazeera would like to strongly emphasize that its journalists will continue to use their WhatsApp accounts and other applications for newsgathering purposes and personal communication,” the news network told the AP. “At no time, have Al Jazeera journalists used their accounts for any means other than for personal or professional use.”The Qatar-based news network’s  office in Gaza was destroyed during the war by Israeli airstrikes that took down the high-rise residential and office tower, which also housed The Associated Press offices. Press freedom groups accused the military, which claimed the building housed Hamas military intelligence, of trying to censor coverage of Israel’s offensive. The Israeli military telephoned a warning, giving occupants of the building one hour to evacuate.  Sada Social, a West Bank-based center tracking alleged violations against Palestinian content on social media, said it was collecting information on the number of Gaza-based journalists impacted by the latest WhatsApp decision.   


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