The Government Press Office yesterday warned foreign journalists and media agencies against participating in the Gaza-bound flotilla, noting it is illegal and that participants risked being banned from Israel for 10 years.

"This flotilla is a dangerous provocation that is being organized by Western and Islamic extremist elements to aid Hamas, which the world defines as an extremist Islamic terrorist organization," said the letter, signed by press office director Oren Helman.

Participating in the flotilla, Helman said, would be regarded as a "an intentional violation of Israeli law and is liable to lead to participants being denied entry into the State of Israel for 10 years, to the impounding of their equipment and to additional sanctions." The Foreign Press Association said it was shocked by the missive.

"Journalists covering a legitimate news event should be allowed to do their jobs without threats and intimidation," the journalists group wrote. "We urge the government to reverse its decision immediately."

Sources in the Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Ministry said that if the ships in the flotilla are towed to an Israeli port everyone on board would be questioned and then deported.