JERUSALEM - Israel has barred foreign journalists from entering the Gaza Strip for a week, in a move media have assailed as a serious violation of press freedom.
Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner said the restrictions were imposed because Palestinian militants have resumed their rocket fire from Gaza, in violation of a 5-month-old truce. The only people allowed to enter and leave Gaza under the policy are international aid workers and Palestinian patients seeking medical treatment outside the territory, he said.
Because the Islamic militant Hamas group that rules Gaza "is not doing anything to stop the rockets firing into Israel, the decision is that only humanitarian movement is allowed," Lerner said.
Journalists dismissed that explanation as implausible and said current hostilities did not justify the ban on access.
"It is absolutely essential that international journalists be allowed to enter the territory and deliver their news reports to Israel and the rest of the world," said a statement from the Foreign Press Association, which represents international media covering Israel and the Palestinain territories.
"We note that humanitarian cases are still going in and out, proving safe passage is possible," added the statement, issued earlier this week. "The curtailing of journalists' right to enter Gaza is a serious violation of press freedom."
The Israeli military said some 75 rockets have been fired at southern Israel from Gaza since the barrages resumed last week, prompting Israel to attack militant targets, seal cargo crossings and restrict fuel shipments.
But in the past, journalists have been allowed in to the territory during times of far greater violence, including large-scale military campaigns.
"This is Israel's policy to not show what's going on in Gaza," said Conny Mus, a reporter for the Dutch television station RTL. Mus spoke from the Israeli side of the Erez crossing, and was among 14 journalists who had unsuccessfully sought entry to Gaza on Wednesday morning.
The media blackout, Mus added, was imposed under false pretenses because movement was not limited to humanitarian affairs.
"I talked to local people, local Palestinians who are going in and out for visits and meetings," Mus said. "This is the first time we basically face a situation like this. Officially they don't want to say that their policy is to keep journalists out, but that's basically what's happening here."