Gaza's communication blackout continues as Israel fights Hamas For days, much of the Gaza Strip has been without cellphone and internet access. The laws of war were written well before the World Wide Web, but some see communication as a fundamental right.

As Gaza's communication blackout grinds on, some fear it is imperiling lives

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Gaza has gone nearly a week without internet and cellphone service. The blackout is raising questions about whether civilians have a fundamental right to communicate during war. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Juliette Touma is the spokesperson for the United Nations agency that delivers aid to Gaza. She was there earlier this week, but she couldn't do her job.

JULIETTE TOUMA: I mean, I couldn't even hold a phone call, like, to record an interview like I'm doing with you now.

BRUMFIEL: Touma spoke to NPR after she left. She said cellphone service and internet are widely unavailable throughout the Gaza Strip. It's making it that much harder for the U.N. to distribute the small amount of food and supplies it can get in.

TOUMA: For aid operations and to coordinate the delivery of assistance, it's extremely difficult not to have a phone line.

BRUMFIEL: Gaza has had blackouts before, most notably at the start of the Israeli ground offensive in October, but this one is different.

ALP TOKER: This one is now the longest single such blackout.

BRUMFIEL: Alp Toker is director of Netblocks, a company that tracks disruption to internet services in conflict zones. He says he doubts the blackout is due to something like an Israeli cyberattack.

TOKER: It's too easy an answer to just say that, look, Israel has just been just flicking on and off the service at will.

BRUMFIEL: In a statement posted shortly after this latest blackout began, Paltel, Gaza's main internet provider, blamed, quote, "ongoing aggression."

Samer Fares is director of a Palestinian mobile provider called Ooredoo. He says an underground fiber-optic line connects internet and cellphone towers in Gaza to Israel and the West Bank. It was severed by Israeli military activity.

SAMER FARES: (Non-English language spoken).

BRUMFIEL: "Paltel has been trying to fix the cut in the line," he says, "but they haven't been able to because of intense military operations in the area."

In fact, two Paltel workers were killed last week as they drove out to make repairs. Fares says they were struck by Israeli tank fire.

Ryan Sturgill is an entrepreneur who used to lead a tech incubator in Gaza. He's been trying to help people get a signal using Israeli and Egyptian cell networks.

RYAN STURGILL: I mean, in almost every conflict since, like, the rise of the internet, there has always been, like, some connectivity or even a landline.

BRUMFIEL: The laws of war date from the last century and were written before cellphones were a thing. In the modern era, he believes connectivity is essential to survival.

STURGILL: Just access to lifesaving information is just fundamentally reliant upon communications.

BRUMFIEL: The telecom workers left in Gaza understand that, and they're trying to restore the network. But for now, Gazans are struggling to talk to the outside world and each other.

Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News, Tel Aviv.


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