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IFEX MEMBERS SLAM ISRAEL OVER MEDIA VIOLATIONS

Israel should stop targeting Palestinian news agencies and journalists, and immediately allow foreign correspondents access to the Gaza Strip in line with a high court ruling last week, say IFEX members.

On 2 January, Israel agreed to let eight foreign journalists into Gaza when border crossings from Israel into Gaza are opened - in the wake of a petition filed by the Foreign Press Association with the High Court. But the plan was abandoned as combat intensified around the Erez checkpoint, the main civilian crossing from Israel into Gaza.

Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) urged Israel to open Gaza to journalists and human rights monitors to report on the actions of both sides. "Their presence can discourage abuse by warring parties and help save lives," says Human Rights Watch.

The ban has prevented more than 400 foreign journalists in Israel from covering Israel's assault on Hamas from inside Gaza, drawing criticism that Israel is trying to manage the story. It has also made Palestinian stringers and reporters already in Gaza even more exposed - especially with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) breaching international law by targeting media outlets there, say the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) and the IFEX members.

Local photographer Hamza Shahin, a photographer with Shehab News Agency, died last week of wounds sustained in an Israeli air attack on 7 December in northern Gaza, reports IFJ. Israeli forces have also attacked vehicles inside Gaza with "Press" or "TV" markings and another cameraman has been injured, says IFJ.

On 5 January, the eighth day of its military campaign, the IDF fired two missiles into the offices of the Hamas-affiliated "Al-Risala" newsweekly, says CPJ. The attack destroyed all of the paper's equipment at the paper's headquarters, located in a residential building in a densely populated area of Gaza City. No employees were killed or injured in the night attack, but structural damage forced residents to abandon the building.

Within minutes of that bombing, the IDF also bombed al-Rantisi, the commercial printing press that publishes "Al-Risala", says CPJ. The newspaper has not appeared on newsstands since 30 December because staff have been unable to get to work due to the fighting.

The IDF also continued to sporadically take over the frequencies of Gaza-based Sawt al-Sha'b radio and Al-Aqsa TV, with Israeli military propaganda calling on Palestinians to abandon Hamas, says CPJ. On 29 December, IDF shelled the headquarters of Al-Aqsa, destroying it entirely, report the IFEX members. The station continues to broadcast from a remote location.

IFEX members reminded the Israeli authorities that journalists and media installations are civilian targets, and are protected under UN Resolution 1738. "International law provides unambiguous protections for journalists, even during military operations, and media installations can only be targeted if they serve a military function," says CPJ.

Since early November 2008, when the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas began to deteriorate, the Israeli government has sharply restricted access to Gaza for foreign journalists and human rights monitors, and none have been permitted entry since the current military offensive began on 27 December. The Israeli government has long banned Israeli journalists from entering Gaza because of fears for their safety, but foreign reporters previously were permitted in.

In the past, Israeli officials have voiced displeasure over the international media's coverage of events in Gaza, saying it inflates Palestinian suffering while not always making clear that Israeli military actions were in response to Palestinian attacks. Officials have said they prefer Palestinians to do the reporting from Gaza.

Meanwhile, the IDF has also taken the fight for "hearts and minds online." On 29 December, the IDF became the first national armed force to set up a dedicated YouTube channel, which shows footage of rocket attacks against Israel, weapons caches found and aid trucks entering Gaza, reports vnunet.com.

According to Palestinian health officials, Israeli attacks have killed more than 600 Palestinians in Gaza in the latest offensive, about one-quarter of them civilians.

Visit these links:
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/8st3dv
- Human Rights Watch: http://tinyurl.com/97cdsb
- IFJ: http://tinyurl.com/9e3fbs
- MADA: http/:www.madacenter.org
- Haaretz.com: http://tinyurl.com/8xwsnl
- vnunet.com: http://tinyurl.com/a4gv2h
(7 January 2009)

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