PM reverses course on warning to flotilla journalists

Netanyahu's office says it'll formulate new procedure for foreign reporters, will allow media on Navy boats; Ya'alon: Initial report was surprise.

By JPOST.COM STAFF, REUTERS
June 27, 2011 17:17
2 minute read.
The 'Mavi Marmara'

The 'Mavi Marmara' 311 (R). (photo credit: Reuters/Emrah Dalkaya)

 
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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was reportedly surprised by a news report Sunday that the Government Press Office - a division of the Prime Minister's Office - had sent a letter to foreign journalists warning against covering the upcoming flotilla to Gaza from the boats themselves, essentially revoked the warning on Monday.

The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement that Netanyahu instructed the appropriate authorities "to formulate a special procedure regarding foreign journalists that participate in the flotilla." Additionally, the PMO announced that Israeli and international media will be allowed to cover the flotilla from Navy vessels.

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Earlier Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that Israel 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," Ya'alon said, referring to Sunday's warning from Israel's Government Press Office (GPO).

"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.

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Pro-Palestinian activists have said around a dozen ships carrying aid to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip 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.

Palestinians say the blockade is illegal and is helping to strangle Gaza's 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 impounding of journalists' equipment.

A year ago, nine Turkish activists, including one with dual US-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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