Communications Minister Mashhour Abu Daka resigned on Thursday following reports that the Palestinian Authority government had blocked access to a number of websites.

The minister said he quit for personal reasons, but did not elaborate.

But shortly before submitting his resignation to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Abu Daka accused the PA attorney-general of being behind the decision to block the sites.

Sources in Ramallah claimed that Abu Daka had been fired for criticizing the decision to block the news websites.

Abu Daka confirmed that a number of Palestinian websites had been blocked by the attorney- general for criticizing PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abu Daka accused the attorney-general, Ahmed al-Mughni, of “gagging freedom of expression” and said the decision to block the websites was illegal.

The attorney-general issued orders to Internet providers in the West Bank to shut a number of websites, Abu Daka added.

The Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency revealed earlier this week that the PA has blocked up to eight critical news sites since the beginning of the year.

The sites, Amad, Fatah Voice, Firas Press, In Light Press, Karama Press, Kofia Press, Milad News and Palestine Beituna, were blocked for criticizing Abbas.

Palestinian officials told Ma’an that the order to block the web sites came from the attorney-general.

Most of the affected sites were believed to be funded and supported by Abbas’s rival, former Fatah Gaza strongman Muhammad Dahlan.

Abbas has been waging a fierce campaign against Dahlan for two years after the latter criticized him and his sons. At the request of Abbas, Dahlan has been expelled from Fatah on charges of corruption.

The decision to block websites critical of Abbas “marks a major expansion of the government’s online powers,” Ma’an reported. “Experts say it is the biggest shift toward routine Internet censorship in the Palestinian Authority’s history.”

Several Palestinian officials have expressed reservations about the decision, calling it embarrassing and counterproductive, the news agency said.

A Palestinian official disclosed that the attorney-general was acting on instructions from higher up in the government – either the president’s office or an intelligence service director.

In the past few weeks, PA security forces in the West Bank have arrested five journalists and bloggers and a cartoonist for criticizing Abbas and exposing corruption scandals.

The unprecedented crackdown is seen by Palestinian journalists as an attempt by the PA government to deter them from reporting about corruption or criticizing the Fatah party’s leaders.

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