Hundreds of reporters set to enter Strip on Friday, as border crossing opens after two-and-a-half-month ban.
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
Hundreds of foreign journalists are expected to enter the Gaza Strip on Friday after Israel announced it was lifting all restrictions on press entry to the Hamas-controlled territory.
The decision to lift the blanket ban on press entry came a day after the last IDF soldiers who took part in the ground operation against Hamas in Gaza left the area, and follows a two-and-a-half-month-long dispute over the restrictions with the foreign press based in Israel.
The restrictions were first imposed in early November due to the deteriorating security situation, and were then reinforced after briefly being lifted last month ahead of the military operation in Gaza.
Scores of foreign journalists have already entered Gaza this week via the Erez crossing as part of a small pool of journalists after Israel eased the ban in the wake of the unilateral cease-fire agreement, which went into effect Sunday morning.
The daily pools of eight journalists were permitted to enter the Strip starting on Monday in accordance with a High Court ruling.
The largely expected decision to completely lift the press ban was welcomed Thursday by the Tel Aviv-based Foreign Press Association which represents foreign media in Israel and the Palestinian territories and had taken the state to court over the issue.
"We are very pleased that the area is going to be opened to the press again," said FPA Chairman Steven Gutkin, who serves as Jerusalem bureau chief of The Associated Press.
He added that the FPA would revert back to legal action if the ban is reimposed in the future.
Israel has faced fierce criticism from the international press for curtailing press freedom during the three-week long military operation.
The head of the Government Press Office, who has opposed the entry of foreign journalists into Gaza during the assault on Hamas, said Thursday that he had no problems with the decision to lift the ban at this time.
'Once our soldiers are out, I have no concerns anymore of either journalists or soldiers getting injured," GPO Director Danny Seaman said.
He noted that about 70 foreign journalists had already gone into Gaza from Israel this week as part of the pools, and that he expected hundreds more would enter the Hamas-run territory on Friday.
The Defense Ministry has always said that foreign journalists would be allowed back into Gaza when Palestinians stop firing rockets at Israel.
The government has long banned Israeli journalists from entering Gaza due to concerns over their safety, but has previously always allowed foreign journalists in even during times of fierce fighting.
In addition to security concerns, Israeli officials have criticized the international media's balance in their coverage of events in Gaza, inflating Palestinian suffering, while not always making clear that Israeli military actions were in response to Palestinian attacks.
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