Israel lets journalists back in to Gaza

Associated Press reports today:

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel said Thursday it is lifting restrictions on foreign journalists entering the Gaza Strip, a ban that had drawn strong criticism from news media.

The government said journalists would be free to enter and leave the war-ravaged territory starting Friday — two days before the Israeli Supreme Court was scheduled to rule on a request by the Foreign Press Association to declare the restrictions illegal.

The court hearing will probably not take place if the government lifts the ban.

Israel imposed restrictions on entry to Gaza in early November as a cease-fire with Gaza’s Hamas rulers began to fray. It tightened the rules after launching a military offensive Dec. 27 and ignored a Supreme Court order six days later to allow limited access to international reporters. Only when a cease-fire was declared Sunday did Israel begin opening the border to a trickle of journalists.

Though the ban was instituted well before heavy fighting began, the government argued the security situation made it unsafe for journalists to visit. News groups charged that Israel wanted to manage coverage of the fighting and said the restrictions violated press freedom.

As we reported earlier,  major news outlets were really ticked off about being barred from Gaza. Said Simon McGregor-Wood, bureau chief for ABC News in Jerusalem and a Foreign Press Association board member:

“We never accepted the argument that it was about our security. We always thought it was a strategic :decision to restrict access to Gaza for whatever benefit they thought it would give them. I think it is pretty clear they didn’t want us going in,” he said.

“We want free, unfettered access as it was before the new restrictions started creeping in, and we hope that there won’t be any bogus restrictions imposed in the future.”

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