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Israel tells Musk Starlink can only operate in Gaza with its approval

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Israel has told Elon Musk his Starlink satellite network will only be allowed to operate in Gaza with its approval, as the entrepreneur met the country’s leaders amid a furore over alleged antisemitism on his social platform X.

The world’s richest man declared late last month that his satellite internet service Starlink would “support connectivity to internationally recognised aid organisations in Gaza”, which has suffered lengthy blackouts under Israel’s bombardment.

But on Monday, Israeli communications minister Shlomo Karhi posted on X that the entrepreneur had “reach[ed] a principle understanding” with the ministry. “Starlink satellite units can only be operated in Israel with the approval of the Israeli Ministry of Communications, including the Gaza Strip,” Karhi said.

Musk has not yet publicly confirmed any deal.

The SpaceX and Tesla chief executive is visiting the Jewish state for the first time since Hamas’s October 7 assault on southern Israel, which killed 1,200 people and triggered a war between Israel and the militant group.

Israel’s ferocious retaliatory bombardment and siege of the strip has created a humanitarian crisis, killed more than 13,300 people and led to prolonged blackouts. These have obstructed rescue efforts, notably by preventing ambulances from locating wounded people.

Musk’s visit to Israel coincides with the last day of a four-day pause in hostilities, and comes as advertisers pile pressure on X over a rise in antisemitism on the platform.

After appearing to endorse an antisemitic conspiracy theory, which a White House spokesperson said was “abhorrent”, Musk has been forced to defend himself from charges of discrimination. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said on X this month. “I wish only the best for humanity.”

A video released by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office showed Musk wearing a flak jacket as he toured burnt-out homes in Kfar Aza, a kibbutz devastated by the militant group’s assault, taking pictures on his mobile phone.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Musk tweeted cryptically after the visit.

Musk’s initial commitment to enable Starlink in Gaza, which followed telecommunications blackouts in the enclave, sparked a spat with the Israeli government, which argued the connectivity would be used by Hamas for “terrorist activities”. 

Starlink, part of Musk’s rockets and satellites company SpaceX, uses a constellation of Earth-orbiting satellites to beam internet connectivity into places where traditional access to the web is difficult. Musk has provided Starlink equipment to Ukraine’s frontline with Russia.

The Starlink signal is received through small satellite dishes called terminals. But Musk said in October that no terminals had actually attempted to connect from besieged Gaza, and Israel controls the movement of goods into the coastal enclave.

During the seven-week war, Israel has at times reportedly cut communications to the strip, while local mobile provider Paltel struggled to source enough fuel to keep its network running.

NetBlocks, an internet access tracker, reported improved connectivity in Gaza on Saturday, after Paltel said engineers had repaired damaged network infrastructure during a temporary ceasefire.

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