A near-total blackout of internet and cellphone service has taken hold across much of the Gaza Strip, according to witnesses there and companies that monitor global connectivity.
The largest telecommunications provider in Gaza that was still largely operational, Paltel, said Friday that it had suffered a complete disruption of all services after heavy Israeli bombing earlier in the day destroyed its last remaining infrastructure connecting it to the global internet.
"Dear people in our beloved homeland, we regret announcing a complete severance of all communications and Internet services with the Gaza Strip in light of the ongoing aggression," Paltel said in a statement translated by NBC News. "The intense bombing in the last hour caused the destruction of all remaining international routes linking Gaza to the outside world, in addition to the routes previously destroyed during the aggression, which led to the interruption of all communications services from the beloved Gaza Strip. May God protect you and protect our country."
Isik Mater, the director of research at NetBlocks, a U.K. company that tracks global internet connectivity, said the bombing created the biggest internet blackout since the conflict began.
“Today’s incident is the largest single disruption to internet connectivity in Gaza since the beginning of the conflict and will be perceived by many as a total or near-total internet blackout,” Mater said. “The loss of international routes is likely to severely limit residents’ ability to communicate with the outside world.”
The Palestine Red Crescent Society issued a statement Friday saying that the disruption would likely cause significant problems for emergency medical services in Gaza.
“We have completely lost contact with the operations room in Gaza Strip and all our teams operating there due to the Israeli authorities cutting off all landline, cellular and internet communications,” the group said. “We are deeply concerned about the ability of our teams to continue providing their emergency medical services, especially since this disruption affects the central emergency number ‘101’ and hinders the arrival of ambulance vehicles to the wounded and injured.”
A spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces said Friday it had "increased the bombing in Gaza" including targeting infrastructure it says is used by terrorists.
Telecommunications services in Gaza had already been severely degraded since the start of the conflict. Some wrote on social media that outages were due to bombs hitting their infrastructure.
Internet providers and cell towers require significant power to run. Israel cut power to Gaza after Hamas attacked, and Gaza’s sole power plant ran out of fuel on Oct. 11.
Doug Madory, the director of internet analysis at Kentik, an internet monitoring company, said that the current blackout is significantly worse than the last major outage in Gaza, when limited electricity forced many internet service providers to limit access and rely on generators.
“By every metric of internet connectivity, things are in bad shape,” Madory said.
Belal Khaled, a photographer based in Gaza, told NBC News in a WhatsApp chat that there was a total internet and cell service blackout. He was only able to speak because he had brief access to satellite internet, he said.
Hamas said in an official press statement that cutting off internet and phone access "warns of the occupation’s intention to commit more massacres and genocides away from the eyes of the press and the world."
Husam Mekdad, a telecommunications specialist in Gaza, told NBC News earlier this week in a Signal chat that some internet providers there had stored fuel for generators, though supplies are invariably limited.
Connectivity was already limited because so much infrastructure had been severed by bombing, Mekdad said. With no electricity, he was forced to charge his own cellphone from a neighbor’s solar panel.
Mekdad could not be reached for comment Friday.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.