“We are facing a real disaster,” Ishaq Sidr, head of the Palestinian Communications Ministry, which is based in the West Bank, told The Washington Post by phone.
On Sunday, Sidr had warned that communications and internet networks in Gaza would go out “completely” by Thursday if the enclave did not receive fuel. Significant infrastructure damage from Israeli attacks had already led to patchy service and intermittent connections, he said.
Paltel, the main Palestinian telecom provider, confirmed the cut in a statement shortly after 4 p.m. Thursday, saying that “all energy sources sustaining the network” had failed and could not be replenished because of Israel’s ban on fuel imports. Jawwal, the main Palestinian cellular company, and Ooredoo, another cellular carrier, issued similar statements.
Alp Toker, director of the cybersecurity monitoring group NetBlocks, told The Post that he had simultaneously observed a collapse in internet connectivity.
“Generator fuel and backup batteries had been predicted to run out around this time,” he said. “There is no sign of restoration at present, so most residents are likely to be facing a total or near-total telecommunications blackout.”
Since the start of the war, Gazans have struggled to charge electronics and secure regular phone and internet connections. As Israel’s ground invasion to oust Hamas has expanded, and the death toll has climbed, it has become harder to reach people in the besieged enclave.
More than 11,100 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed since Hamas’s brutal attack on Israel on Oct. 7, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which stopped updating its official casualty count on Friday because fighting and communications cuts meant it could no longer count the dead. A digital blackout will make it even more difficult to verify Israeli and Hamas reports of fighting and assess the deteriorating humanitarian situation.
Some workarounds remain. Gazans with Israeli or electronic SIM cards may have cellular or internet access in certain places, such as border areas. A handful of local journalists have satellite phones. Connecting to an Israeli network may still be possible in some parts of Gaza City, Sidr said.
Previous blackouts in Gaza, which coincided with heightened Israeli military activity, stemmed from “upstream” disruptions from Israeli providers, Toker said. Thursday’s blackout appeared to be different, and more concerning, as it could last indefinitely without new fuel or alternative power sources.
“The depletion of supplies is a setback that has few workarounds other than resupply via truckloads of fuel, and what comes through is likely to be destined for the hospitals rather than the network operators,” Toker said.
U.S. officials directly linked previous blackouts to Israel — which has ultimate control over telecommunication infrastructure in the Palestinian territories.
After a 36-hour blackout in October, a senior U.S. official told The Washington Post that Israel was responsible for cutting off communications in Gaza and “we made it clear they had to be turned back on.” The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations, said the Israelis did not tell Washington why they had switched off communications.
Palestinian providers said they had warned about the looming cuts for days to no avail.
“We have received promises from many international institutions that work is underway with the Israeli side with the aim of introducing fuel, but until this moment, unfortunately, we have not obtained any clear commitments,” said Samer Fares, chief executive of Ooredoo Palestine, based in Ramallah. “We do not have any alternative plans to overcome this problem.”
Previous blackouts left aid organizations and emergency workers unable to coordinate and communicate. Some Gazan ambulance drivers improvised, positioning themselves on hills to better spot where strikes hit.
With fighting and airstrikes across the tiny enclave, Sidr said, he could not ensure the safety of workers who would be needed to repair damaged infrastructure.
Israel is allowing in a trickle of humanitarian aid through Egypt, although it has barred the import of fuel, claiming that Hamas will siphon it off for military purposes.
On Wednesday, for the first time since the war began, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said it had received more than 23,000 liters of fuel from Egypt. But Israel said it could only be used for transportation and not to power generators in collapsing hospitals or telecommunication stations.
Sidr said that Paltel needed “14,500 liters of fuel per day, in addition to the necessary storage fuel … to avoid this disaster again.”
Wael Abu Omar, a Rafah border official in Gaza, told The Post on Thursday evening he had no official count of how much aid crossed into Gaza on Thursday because of the communication shutdown.
Harb reported from London. Hazem Balousha in Amman, Jordan, Leo Sands in London, Bryan Pietsch and Adam Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.