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At the urging of the High Court of Justice, Israel agreed Thursday to allow eight foreign journalists into Gaza when it reopens the border crossing with the Hamas-ruled territory, the Justice Ministry said.
The decision fell short of a High Court proposal, made a day earlier, to let up to 12 international journalists into the Gaza Strip, and was deemed "insufficient" by the Tel Aviv-based Foreign Press Association, which had petitioned the court on the matter.
The move was the latest in an ongoing legal battle between the government and the group representing foreign journalists in Israel, following a two-month-old ban on foreign correspondents entering Gaza.
Israel originally imposed the blanket ban following an upswing in Palestinian rocket attacks, but the issue took on added urgency in the wake of this week's massive assault against Hamas targets in the Strip.
"We have respectfully asked that the court allow more than the eight people that the state agreed to," said Glenys Sugarman, executive secretary of the FPA.
She said that 12 was the "absolute minimum" number that would meet the needs of the motley of journalists - including television, radio, print and photographers - eager to gain entry to the coastal strip, and that cutting the number down by one-third was "hugely problematic."
"We don't think that the number that the state came back with has any logic," said Simon McGregor-Wood, Middle East correspondent for ABC News.
He said that even allowing 12 foreign journalists into Gaza was "insufficient," while the eight proposed by the state was both "arbitrary" and "unreasonable."
McGregor-Wood noted that he, like other members of the TV and print press, was now forced to rely solely on Palestinian sources for news coming out of the Hamas-ruled territory, giving them an "exclusive monopoly" on Gaza news. "Sometimes this is all right, but others times it is not," he said.
The court is now expected to rule on the exact number.
In the past, Israel has voiced its displeasure with the international media's coverage of events in Gaza, arguing that such coverage inflated Palestinian suffering while not always making clear that Israeli military actions were in response to Palestinian attacks.
The head of the Government Press Office said Wednesday that he actually preferred Palestinian stringers and reporters covering the news from Gaza instead of foreign journalists, since international journalists were routinely used and exploited by the Islamic regime.
"Based on our experience from the war in Lebanon and the way the foreign press has conducted itself in Gaza, we know that Hamas is in complete control of the news, and that reports from Gaza are carried out under duress," GPO director Danny Seaman said.
"Foreign media in Gaza will become fig leaves for the news, and will give credibility to the reporting," he said.
The government has long banned Israeli journalists from entering Gaza due to concerns for their safety, but has previously allowed foreign journalists in even during times of fierce fighting.
The Defense Ministry has said foreign journalists will be allowed back into Gaza when Palestinians stop firing rockets at Israel.
When the border is reopened, foreign journalists who enter Gaza, after signing up in advance, will do so at their own risk, the state said.
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