The Palestinian Authority (PA) under Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas has instructed internet providers to block access to news websites that criticize Abbas, Bethlehem based Ma'an News reported.
As many as eight news outlets have been rendered unavailable after technicians at the Palestinian Telecommunications Company, or PalTel, used software called Squid to cause the sites to return error pages.
The decision to begin blocking websites "marks a major expansion of the government's online powers," wrote Ma'an, adding that "experts say it is the biggest shift toward routine Internet censorship in the Palestinian Authority’s history. Aside from one incident in 2008, Palestinians have generally been free to read whatever they wanted."
The affected websites are Amad, Fatah Voice, Firas Press, In Light Press, Karama Press, Kofia Press, Milad News and Palestine Beituna. The sites focus on internal Fatah issues, and some of them "have been described as loyal to Muhammad Dahlan," a former Fatah leader and critic of Abbas.
Ma'an reported that "As far back as June 2011, the Palestinian Authority was complaining about its inability to shut down alleged Dahlan media based abroad... Four of those sites are now being blocked."
Officials familiar with the order say it came from Ahmad al-Mughni, the PA's attorney general. Al-Mughni dismissed these claims and refused to take questions from Ma'an.
In Washington, a spokeswoman said the State Department was "concerned about any reports regarding the use of technologies to restrict access to information. The United States advocates Internet freedom."