Israel changes mind over journalists covering Gaza-bound flotilla

Israel has backtracked on its warning to foreign journalists set to travel with the Gaza-bound flotilla. The latest statement from the prime minister’s office says they would not face the sanctions the other participants in the convoy may.
"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the authorities to draw up a special procedure for dealing with foreign journalists sailing on the flotilla that will enter Israel illegally,"

AFP news agency quotes a statement from Netanyahu's office.

Earlier, Israel said it would ban any journalist traveling with the second fleet attempting to break the naval blockade of Gaza, from entering the country for ten years. It was also said that their equipment would be confiscated. Journalists were outraged at what they saw as an attack on media freedom.

The ten-vessel-strong humanitarian “Freedom Flotilla II” with around 500 activists onboard is set to sail towards Gaza on Tuesday. According to the organizers, some 40 journalists have been accredited to join the mission. However, doing so will put them at odds with the Israeli authorities.

The threat caused rage in media circles. A professional group representing foreign journalists working in Israel has issued a statement, saying the move violated press freedom.

“The gesture of the Israeli government casts serious doubts over freedom of the press in Israel,” the statement says.

The journalists denied allegations that joining the fleet would violate any laws and said it was necessary as part of their job to report the news.

The new Gaza fleet was first announced in May 2011, one year after the Israeli navy thwarted a similar attempt to break the blockade. It is to deliver humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territory and draw public attention to the plight of Gaza residents, organizers say.

Several parties, including the US, the EU and the UN discouraged people from taking part in the action. Cyprus banned the fleet from entering its ports on the way from Greece to Gaza. Egypt said it would allow the ships to unload at El-Arish, a Mediterranean port which lies some 50km west of Egypt's border with Gaza.

The 2010 mission ended in a violent raid by Israeli commandos, with nine activists killed and dozens wounded. The raid drew public shunning of Israel, which was said to have used disproportionate force against civilians.

Top Israeli officials reiterated on Monday after an emergency meeting that the military will do anything necessary to stop the fleet from reaching Gaza. The navy will take into account last year’s experience and try to avoid unnecessary violence, a minister said.

“The Israeli view is that this is simply a provocation. There’s plenty of aid flowing to Gaza especially since they eased the blockade last year. So there is no major shortage of medicines. There is food and so forth. The blockade is mostly in the area of building materials. There was an Israeli military offensive around 2.5 years ago and there is still a lot of damage to the infrastructure and especially to homes that needs to be fixed. But Israel continues to restrict the amount of building goods that gets into Gaza,” Chairman of the Foreign Press Association in Israel Joe Federman told RT.