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Israel bans press in the Gaza Strip

For nearly three weeks Israel has blocked access to the Gaza Strip. Foreign journalists are challenging the Gaza ban in court, calling it a 'blow' to freedom of the press.

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As part of its disengagement from Gaza in September 2005, Israel withdrew soldiers and settlers from the territory it had occupied for 38 years and said that the Gaza Strip was no longer its responsibility. However, Israel still controls all access to Gaza via land, sea, and air. Gazans are also dependent on Israel for electricity and fuel.

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Since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, Israel has further tightened its control over the territory, allowing an on-again, off-again trickle of commercial or other traffic over the border.

Israeli officials say they allow humanitarian aid and other necessary supplies into Gaza, but Palestinians say they are living under siege.

The latest clampdown on any access to and from Gaza stems from recent rocket attacks on southern Israel from militants in the Gaza Strip. Israel and Hamas had agreed to a temporary truce – called tahdiya in Arabic or regia in Hebrew – but the quiet was shattered by both sides over the past two weeks.

Human rights groups have also brought attention to the blockade of Gaza over the past month.

A new "Free Gaza" movement has sent boats from Cyprus to Gaza in defiance of the Israeli ban. Some boats have managed to dock, while in other cases, the activists were arrested.

By blocking the press from entering Gaza, the FPA charged in its petition to the Supreme Court that the ban "gives the unpleasant feeling that the state of Israel has something to hide."

Observers here theorize that Israeli defense officials are enforcing the ban as a way to put pressure on Hamas. The FPA says that there are indications that, in the interest of avoiding additional negative publicity, the Israeli army may order the border to be open on Wednesday.

"If that happens, we will explore the option of moving forward with a legal case anyway, because of the precedent," Gutkin wrote in an urgent e-mail update to members on Tuesday.

United Nations studies of the region suggest that due to the ongoing closure, conditions for Palestinians in the territories, particularly the Gaza Strip, are deteriorating.

On Wednesday, several UN offices that aid Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will launch a consolidated appeal process for 2009, during which they will release figures showing the state of decline.

"At the end of 2008, nearly 80 percent of the population in Gaza was dependent on food assistance which combined with restricted access to basic social services and movement can be described as a major human dignity crisis," said a press release from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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