Israel warns foreign media against Gaza flotilla participation

Israel warns foreign media against Gaza flotilla participation

Foreign journalists participating in a flotilla expected to head to Gaza this week, may be banned from working in the country for 10 years, Israel warned Sunday, dpa reported.

"The government's threat to punish journalists covering the Gaza flotilla sends a chilling message to the international media," and raised "serious questions" about its commitment to press freedom, said the Tel Aviv-based Foreign Press Association.

Ten ships with about 500 Palestinian activists from Europe, Canada and the United States are scheduled to participate in Freedom Flotilla II. An Israeli journalist for left-liberal daily Haaretz is among them.

The ships, sailing from various Mediterranean ports, are expected to meet in international waters off the coast of Cyprus on Tuesday, before heading to Gaza. They plan to breach the Israeli blockade of Gaza, more than a year after the attempt by Freedom Flotilla I.

In a letter to foreign journalists working in Israel, Oren Helman, the director of the government press office, called the flotilla a "dangerous provocation."

The letter said that "participation 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 ten years, to the impoundment of their equipment and to additional sanctions."

Meanwhile, the Free Gaza movement, one of the flotilla organizers, said Sunday that a US boat was being blocked from leaving Greece, with authorities there saying they needed to check a complaint that it was not "seaworthy."

On May 31, 2010, Israeli naval commandos boarded the Turkish Mavi Marmara and other ships in international waters off the coast of Gaza and shot dead nine Turkish civilian activists. Israel said some activists had used knives and sticks to attack its commandos.

The Turkish group that was the main organizer of last year's flotilla announced this month it was backing down from sending the Mavi Marmara or other ships this year - the IHH-Humanitarian Relief Foundation cited damage to the Mavi Marmara and "technical reasons."

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