Diaa Hadid - Associated Press Writer

Israel maintained its ban on foreign journalists entering the Gaza Strip Friday despite a recent Supreme Court order to allow a limited number of reporters to enter the territory.

The ban has been in place since a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas began to fray on Nov. 5. Israel eased the ban last month but tightened it again after launching its air offensive against Gaza’s Hamas rulers a week ago.

A legal challenge by the Foreign Press Association, which represents foreign media in Israel, prompted the court ruling this week to allow groups of up to 12 foreign journalists to cross the border whenever the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza is open for humanitarian cases.

That was the case on Friday, when Israel opened the crossing to allow nearly 300 Palestinians with foreign passports to leave Gaza. But authorities defied the court order and kept reporters out.

"We call on the Israeli government to immediately honor the will of the court and allow foreign journalists access to Gaza," the Foreign Press Association said in a statement. "The authorities’ position that there was not enough time to coordinate and allow the journalists to enter does not seem reasonable."

A military spokesman said Israel kept the journalists out because authorities at the crossing point were focused on processing the hundreds of Palestinians exiting Gaza.

"The crossing today was overwhelmed dealing with the emergency evacuation of people," said army spokesman Peter Lerner. He said journalists might be allowed to cross on Sunday, when Israel plans to open the crossing for injured Palestinians to enter Israel for medical treatment.

The ban on foreign journalists has made it more difficult for news organizations to verify the extent of damage from the offensive, the number of civilian casualties or the seriousness of humanitarian problems such as shortages of food and medicine.

Some organizations, such as The Associated Press, are relying on journalists who live in Gaza and cover the conflict full-time but would normally have sent in reinforcements to cover the story more extensively.

The Israeli government has long banned Israeli journalists from entering Gaza because of fears for their safety, but foreign reporters have been permitted to go in, even during times of heavy fighting.

While Israel has restricted media access to Gaza in the past, a ban this long is unprecedented. Journalists have protested the restrictions as a grave blow to press freedom.



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