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Israel: Journalists on flotilla face expulsion

By The Associated Press

This article was published June 26, 2011 at 4:25 p.m.

file-in-this-may-31-2010-file-photo-the-mavi-marmara-ship-the-lead-boat-of-a-flotilla-headed-to-the-gaza-strip-which-was-stormed-by-israeli-naval-commandos-in-a-predawn-confrontation-sails-into-the-port-of-ashdod-israel-israel-on-sunday-june-26-2011-threatened-to-ban-international-journalists-for-up-to-a-decade-from-the-country-if-they-join-a-flotilla-planning-to-breach-the-israeli-blockade-of-the-gaza-strip

FILE - In this May 31, 2010 file photo the Mavi Marmara ship, the lead boat of a flotilla headed to the Gaza Strip which was stormed by Israeli naval commandos in a predawn confrontation, sails into the port of Ashdod, Israel. Israel on Sunday, June 26, 2011, threatened to ban international journalists for up to a decade from the country if they join a flotilla planning to breach the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

— Israel said Sunday that any foreign journalist caught on board a Gaza-bound flotilla could face deportation and a 10-year ban from the country, in a move that threatened to worsen the nation's already strained relationship with the international media.

Journalists said they should be allowed to cover a legitimate news story, but Israel said the media would be complicit in an illegal breach of its naval blockade of a hostile territory ruled by a terrorist group.

The announcement reflected Israeli jitters about the international flotilla, which comes just more than a year after a similar mission ended with the deaths of nine Turkish activists in clashes with Israeli naval commandos who intercepted them. Each side blamed the other for the violence.

Israel is eager to avoid a repeat of last year's raid, which drew heavy international condemnation and prompted Israel to ease its blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Many Israelis believe that the media's coverage of the bloodshed contributed to their country's image problems.

In a letter to foreign journalists, the Government Press Office's director, Oren Helman, called the flotilla "a dangerous provocation that is being organized by western and Islamic extremist elements to aid Hamas."

He warned journalists that taking part in the flotilla "is an intentional violation of Israeli law and is liable to lead to participants being denied entry into the State of Israel for 10 years, to the impoundment of their equipment and to additional sanctions," Helman said.

The letter, he added, was reviewed and approved by Israel's attorney general.

The Foreign Press Association, which represents hundreds of journalists working for international news organizations in Israel and the Palestinian territories, condemned the Israeli decision and urged the government to cancel the order.

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