Israel on Sunday 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.
It remains unclear when the current flotilla will actually set sail, but organizers have hinted it could be as soon as this week.
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In a letter to foreign journalists, 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."
"I would like to make it clear to you and to the media that you represent, 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 10 years, to the impoundment of their equipment and to additional sanctions," Helman said.
The letter, he added, had been reviewed and approved by Israel's attorney general.
The warning reflected Israel's strained relationship with the international media and its jitters about the international flotilla, which comes just over a year after a similar mission ended in the deaths of nine Turkish activists in clashes with Israeli naval commandos.
Israel is eager to avoid a repeat of last year's raid, which drew heavy international condemnations and ultimately forced Israel to loosen a blockade on Hamas-controlled Gaza.
'Annoucement meant to intimidate reporters'
Mya Guarnieri, an American journalist with Israeli citizenship who is covering the flotilla on behalf of the Palestinian news agency Ma'an, told Ynet that she believes the announcement was meant to intimidate reporters.
Guarnieri, who was supposed to board the flotilla's American ship, added that her own safety concerns might prevent her from completing her coverage of the event.
She said, however, that the colleagues with whom she had spoken do not intend to back down from taking part in the sail. She said that they are worried, but believe in the freedom of the press. She added that she does not understand why Israel calls attention to the flotilla if it does not want it to be covered by the media.
Foreign Press Association Executive Secretary Glenys Sugarman inveighed against the measure as well. She brought up the Victoria ship, which was apprehended in March while transporting weapons from Syria to Gaza, noting that journalists had no access to the incident.
Ronen Medzini, Attila Somfalvi and Aviel Magnezi contributed to the report
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