Mahmoud Abbas - AP - April 25, 2012
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Feb. 9, 2012. Photo by AP
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The Palestinian Authority began blocking access to websites which expressed criticism toward it, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported Wednesday. According to the report, the PA instructed its internet providers to block access to news websites that are critical of President Mahmoud Abbas.

According to the report, the PA blocked eight news website operating in the West Bank, including Amad, Fatah Voice, Firas Press, In Light Press, Karama Press, Kofia Press, Milad News and Palestine Beituna. The move is a rare one, as the PA had limited internet access only once before in 2008. Most Palestinians have full internet access. It was also reported that Palestinian communications company Paltel, partially owned by the PA, agreed to the move.

The blocked websites focus on internal Palestinian matters, and some are even considered to be close to Muhammad Dahlan, a Palestinian politician and former chief of the Preventive Security Force in Gaza, who is considered a rival of Abbas. In the past the PA shut down a television station that was partially owned by Dahlan.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland commented on the reports on Wednesday saying: "e are concerned about any uses of technology that would restrict access to information. We are raising these concerns with the Palestinian Authority. You know that we've had these concerns in other parts of the world, and we wouldn't want to see the PA going in the direction that some of those regimes have gone in."

Ma'an reports that Palestinian officials blame Attorney General Ahmad Al Mughani for ordering the censorship, although he declined to respond to the allegations. Palestinian Communication Minister Mashur Abu Daqqa also said that Mughani was involved. "He makes his own rules in order to justify what is only his own decision," Abu Daqqa said, adding that "the blocking of these websites is against the public interests."

The attorney general was criticized last month after ordering the arrest of a journalist who reported claims of corruption against the Palestinian Foreign Ministry. Mughani also signed two warrants for the arrest of bloggers who criticized Abbas on Facebook.