Israel Reviews Threat to Ban Foreign Journalists Who Board Gaza Flotilla

Government Press Organization had warned media personnel they would not be allowed in Israel for 10 years, but top minister says Netanyahu found that threat to be 'problematic'.

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Israel said on Monday it was rethinking its threat to bar foreign journalists from entering the country for 10 years if they board a new aid flotilla that plans to challenge the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

"[Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] heard about it on the news and asked to re-examine this issue because it's problematic," Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said, referring to Sunday's warning from Israel's Government Press Office (GPO).

The ‘Dignitי - Al Karama’ (Dignity - Al Karama) ship sailing off the coast of the French Mediterranean island of Corsica on June 25, 2011 to join the new pro-Palestinian aid flotilla.Credit: AFP

"I know the prime minister was as surprised as I was to hear this," he said, without disclosing who had made the decision to deliver the threat. "There's no way to stop the media in this day and age if they [are on board] anyway. It's better not to clash with them."

The Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem described the warning, which GPO director Oren Helman sent to international media organizations, as a "chilling message" that raised questions about Israel's commitment to freedom of the press.

Pro-Palestinian activists have said around a dozen ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip, territory controlled by Hamas Islamists, could depart from European ports in the coming days.

Israel has made clear it will enforce the blockade it says is aimed at stopping weaponry from reaching Hamas, which is shunned by the West because of its refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing peace deals.

Palestinians say the blockade is illegal and is helping to strangle Gaza's underdeveloped economy. Israeli officials have said the convoy could dock in Egypt or Israel and have its cargo of aid transferred overland to the Gaza Strip.

In an email, Helman said participation in the flotilla would be "an intentional violation" of Israeli law and could result in a 10-year entry ban to Israel and the impoundment of journalists' equipment.

A year ago, nine Turkish activists, including one with dual U.S.-Turkish nationality, were killed by Israeli soldiers who raided a Gaza-bound aid convoy and were confronted by passengers wielding clubs and knives.

Netanyahu's security cabinet discussed the new flotilla on
Monday. A statement from the Prime Minister's Office reaffirmed "Israel is determined to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza with as little friction as possible with its passengers".

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