IDF: Security threats near the Erez crossing keeping foreign journalists out of Gaza.
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
Citing security threats, Israel would not allow foreign press to enter the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Monday, maintaining a two-month-old blanket ban that has been in force since before the start of the 10-day-old Israeli assault on the Islamic regime.
Maj. Peter Lerner, spokesman for the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories, said that security threats near the Erez crossing had stymied plans to let a pool of eight foreign journalists into the Hamas-ruled territory. The pool is to be made up of six members of the foreign press chosen by a Foreign Press Association lottery, while the remaining two slots will be allotted by the Government Press Office. The plan was based on an agreement reached last week, following a petition filed with the High Court of Justice against the ban keeping foreign press out of Gaza.
Lerner said it was still unclear when the journalists would be allowed into the Strip.
Separately, GPO head Danny Seaman said Monday that a crater caused by an Israeli shell on the Palestinian side of the road near the crossing was the reason the foreign press had not been let in Monday.
"The eight aren't going in today because of a technical problem on the Palestinian side - a crater caused by a shell overnight that disabled the road," Seaman explained.
He added that efforts would be made to repair the area so that reporters could go in on Tuesday.
Lerner said he knew nothing about a crater in the road.
Meanwhile, the FPA, which represents foreign journalists in Israel and the Palestinian territories, expressed growing exasperation Monday with the ongoing press ban, and suggested that Israel was mixing genuine security concerns and games.
"We are waiting day by day, hour by hour," said Glenys Sugarman, executive secretary of the FPA. "We just don't know when we will get in."
Sugarman said that she had been told Monday that there was a suicide bomber on the Palestinian side of the border, which was why the border was quickly closed as a group of foreign nationals were leaving the Palestinian territory.
"There are security issues, but there is playing around as well," she said.
"Israel has never restricted media access like this before, and it should be ashamed," said Ethan Bronner, the New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem. "It's betraying the principles by which it claims to live."
An estimated 400-500 foreign journalists are now in Israel covering the offensive against Hamas in Gaza.
Banned from the Strip, the foreign press has been reporting on the assault on Hamas from the Gaza-Israel border, and using Palestinian reports and video from inside the territory.
In the past, Israeli officials have voiced displeasure over the international media's balance in their coverage of events in Gaza, inflating Palestinian suffering, while not always making clear that Israeli military actions came in response to Palestinian attacks.
Gil Hoffman and AP contributed to this report.
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