The United Nations defended freedom of the press on Monday as it commented on Israel’s decision to shut down the Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera, while the United States opposed Israel’s closure of the channel, saying it should be allowed to operate despite any concerns about its coverage.

“We think Al Jazeera ought to be able to operate in Israel, operate in other countries in the region,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said, adding that the United States was “quite concerned” about the Israeli move.

Al Jazeera has been the focus of months of criticism by Netanyahu and his government in the latest round of a long-running feud that began well before Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

“Regarding the closure of the Al Jazeera office in Israel,” said spokesman Stephane Dujarric of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s office, “we’ve made it clear that we stand firmly against any decision to roll back freedom of the press.”

“A free press provides an invaluable service to ensure that the public is informed and that the public is engaged,” he added.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that his government had decided unanimously to close the channel, and hours later it went off-air in the country.

Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said that he had issued the order to shutter the channel, confiscate equipment and restrict broadcasting to Al Jazeera’s websites in a separate joint statement with Netanyahu.

With AFP