Media protest at Israeli ban on Gaza Strip access

JERUSALEM Mon Nov 24, 2008 10:29am EST

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JERUSALEM Nov 24 (Reuters) - International media groups asked the Israeli Supreme Court on Monday to end a ban on journalists entering the Gaza Strip that was imposed by Israel nearly three weeks ago as violence flared in the territory.

The Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem said in a statement its lawyers had filed a petition seeking the reopening to foreign journalists of Israel's Erez crossing to Gaza, where 1.5 million Palestinians live under an Israeli blockade.

Israel has cited security concerns for stopping journalists entering Gaza, to which it controls all access, save a normally closed border post with Egypt. However, Erez crossing is open to some, notably people needing medical care, officials said.

Last week, the heads of international media organisations, including Reuters, wrote to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urging him to end the ban. It comes at a time when the United Nations is criticising Israel for blocking the supply to Gaza of food, fuel and other aid. Israeli leaders say this is a response to rocket fire from Gaza.

Israel's left-leaning Haaretz newspaper said in an editorial on Sunday: "Shutting out foreign journalists is an act of punishment that gives Israel and her democracy a bad name."

Violence that has undermined a truce agreed in June began on Nov. 4, when raiding Israeli troops killed five Hamas Islamist fighters and Palestinians then renewed rocket fire into Israel.

Israel bans all its citizens, including journalists, from going to Gaza. It also routinely denies passage to Palestinians, including journalists, wishing to enter or leave the enclave. (Reporting by Alastair Macdonald)

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