Telecom services in Gaza slowly restored as Egypt provides towers at border

Telecom services in Gaza slowly restored as Egypt provides towers at border


Telecom services are slowly being restored to the Gaza strip after the most significant internet blackout since the conflict began occurred on Friday.

Speaking on Friday, Isik Mater, the director of research at NetBlocks, a UK company that tracks internet connectivity, said intense bombing was responsible for what will be perceived by many as a a total or near-black out of internet connectivity.

Paltel, the largest network operator in the country that was largely operational said the bombing on Friday “caused the destruction of all remaining international routes linking Gaza to the outside world, in addition to the routes previously destroyed during the aggression”.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said the blackout would cause major disruption to emergency services in Gaza that are trying to respond to the damage and injury caused by the Israeli attacks.

The “101” emergency number was impacted by the disruption, which would have hinder the arrival of ambulances to the wounded an injured, the Red Crescent said.

In addition, the society said it lost contact with its operations room in the Gaza Strip.

Starlink to offer services?

In response to pressure from the international community on social media, Starlink CEO Elon Musk said on Saturday that his LEO satellite constellation would aim to help internationally recognised aid organisations, but also clarified that no terminals from Gaza have attempted to connect to their network.

Israel’s communications minister Shlomo Karhi responded to Musk on X (formerly twitter) and said that Israel would do all that it could to prevent Starlink being deployed in Gaza.

"HAMAS will use it for terrorist activities," Karhi said.

"Perhaps Musk would be willing to condition it with the release of our abducted babies, sons, daughters, elderly people. All of them! By then, my office will cut any ties with starlink."

Israel said on 17th October that it was in talks with Musk over Starlink and SpaceX supporting its war-time connectivity operations, and internet connectivity for Israeli communities close to the Gaza Strip. Starlink is not currently available in Israel in any capacity.

Following Karhi’s tweet, Musk clarified that if Starlink terminals were to connect they “will take extraordinary measures to confirm that it is used only for purely humanitarian reasons. Moreover, we will do a security check with both the US and Israeli governments before turning on even a single terminal.”

The logistics of this plan from Musk have been called into question. Speaking to AlJazeera, Marc Owen Jones, associate professor of Middle East Studies at Hamad Bin Khalifa University based in Doha, said “Starlink terminals or dishes in Gaza would be difficult to smuggle in and distribute at scale. The Israeli government is unlikely to allow legal imports of it”.

Even if ground infrastructure and terminals were to be allowed in and kept out of the hands of Hamas, Owen Jones points to the lack of power and fuel in Gaza to even make the system operational.

Services start to resume

On Sunday, Paltel said in a post on X that telecommunication services, including landline, mobile, and internet, were gradually being restored, with its technical and network teams “diligently addressing the damage to the internal network infrastructure under challenging conditions”.

Netblock’s confirmed that network traffic was increasing and services being restored on Sunday.

Mobile network operators from Gaza’s neighbouring Egypt have also offered their services to help restore connectivity.

The chairman of the Board of Directors of Vodafone Egypt, Hany Mahmoud, said in an interview with local press on Saturday that Vodafone Egypt was preparing mobile stations (towers) to be transferred to the Egypt/Gaza border in order to restore internet and telecommunications networks.

Mahmoud said the five towers were used for large public gatherings and sports matches and could be transported in co-ordination with government agencies from Egypt and Palestine.

Egypt Today reported that alongside Vodafone Egypt, Etisalat Misr and Orange Egypt have all expressed their readiness to expand their coverage to Gaza, citing local sources.

The local sources said Etisalat Misr is willing to offer its services to Gaza through its existing tower infrastructure. The source clarified that Etisalat is in contact with Egypt’s National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA) to coordinate and obtain any required approvals.

It was also reported that Orange Egypt were in conversations with NTRA over the same plans.

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