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Israel's Ministry of Defence has reinstated a ban on foreign journalists entering the Gaza Strip, despite protests from IFEX members and the heads of major news organisations, and an appeal to the Supreme Court.

The ban was lifted on 4 December after weeks of media protests, but was re-imposed the following day as part of a wider closure of the Gaza border in response to Palestinian rocket attacks.

ARTICLE 19 likened the ban to the tactics used by the Burmese military junta. "The lifting of the ban for one day only was yet another cruel twist in the treatment of the Palestinian people. This is reminiscent of the information blackout imposed by the Burmese authorities in the aftermath of the Saffron Revolution and yet again after the cyclone hit the country in May 2008," said ARTICLE 19.

Defence Ministry spokesperson Peter Lerner said that the decision to let journalists enter the Gaza Strip would be reviewed daily. According to AP, Israeli officials have said access will be restored when the Palestinians stop the cross-border rocket attacks.

"The freedom of movement of journalists must be guaranteed at all times," Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said. "The Israeli authorities should not be in a position to choose what the press can or cannot cover."

Israeli authorities imposed the "news blackout" on 5 November amid an outbreak of Israeli strikes against militants and Palestinian rocket fire. A day prior, they had extended their blockade of Gaza to prevent food, fuel and essential supplies from entering the territory, including provisions from the UN.

According to AP, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has not responded to a 21 November letter from world news leaders, including AP president Tom Curley, Reuters editor-in-chief David Schlesinger, "The New York Times" executive editor Bill Keller, ABC News president David Westin and BBC News director Helen Boaden. They had expressed their grave concern "about the prolonged and unprecedented denial of access to the Gaza Strip for the international media." RSF's letter to Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak protesting the ban has also gone unanswered.

RSF and ARTICLE 19 say the blackout is Israel's attempt to manage international news coverage of the decline in humanitarian conditions in Gaza. A Defence Ministry spokesperson told reporters that the international coverage exaggerated Palestinian suffering.

The Tel-Aviv-based Foreign Press Association has asked Israel's Supreme Court to overturn the travel ban, arguing that it constitutes "a grave and mortal blow against freedom of the press and other basic rights and gives the unpleasant feeling that the state of Israel has something to hide." The court has set a date for a hearing on the issue later this month.

The Israeli government has banned Israeli journalists from entering Gaza since the start of the Israeli blockade more than two years ago because of fears for their safety. Foreign reporters have been permitted to enter, but are subjected to security checks, governmental authorisation and military censorship.

In recent years a number of journalists have been killed or injured by Israeli security forces while reporting the conflict, including Fadel Shana, a Palestinian cameraman who worked for Reuters, who was killed in April 2008.

Since the travel ban came into effect, coverage in Gaza has been largely left to local Palestinian staffers and a handful of foreign journalists who were already there, says AP.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (Mada) has reported serious restrictions on Palestinian reporters during the past few days - a reflection of the escalating tension between Fatah and Hamas. The independent news agency Ramatan suspended work at its Palestinian offices in protest against the harassment of its offices in the West Bank, while independent journalists have reported being attacked and arrested. "The harassment is to the extent that it pushes journalists to avoid covering internal events," says Mada. Read more about the recent attacks here:

Also visit these links:
- RSF:
- AP:
(10 December 2008)

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