Foreign Press Caught Off Guard

Operation found many foreign reporters home for holidays.

Saturday's military operation in the Gaza Strip has caught off guard foreign media correspondents covering the area. A significant portion of them are still in their home countries enjoying the traditional one-week vacation between Christmas and New Year's Day. Tonight, many will make their way back to Israel.

A small Foreign Ministry delegation remains in Sderot. Last night it was bolstered by four additional spokespeople, translators and representatives from the IDF Spokesman's Office.

These preparations are part of the Foreign Ministry's attempts to deal with the arrival of several hundred members of the media expected to arrive in the area in the coming days.

A media center with wireless Internet has been set up next to the war room at the Sderot city hall.

Meanwhile, among those journalists already in Israel, criticism continues to be raised about Israel's policies on entering the Gaza Strip.

In recent weeks, the Defense Ministry again ordered the Strip closed to foreign journalists. Following demands made by a forum of international journalists, the High Court will deliberate the matter on Wednesday.

"We have already covered several operations in Israel and in the Gaza Strip," Tim Butcher, a correspondent for Britain's Daily Telegraph, told Haaretz. "What's different this time is that the government has closed the Strip. We knew an operation was going to happen, but we couldn't enter to cover it."

The result, according to the forum, is biased coverage. "The material that arrives now from the Strip is the work of Gaza natives employed by foreign companies," said a forum member. "Locals have a totally different viewpoint from that of a foreign professional who isn't emotionally or personally involved in what's happening in Gaza."