Israel warned foreign journalists on Sunday that participating in a Gaza-bound flotilla later in the week is illegal under Israeli law, and could result in anyone who joins it being deported and barred from Israel for up to 10 years.
Journalists said they should be allowed to cover a legitimate news story, but Israel reiterated that the media would be involved in an illegal breach of its naval blockade of a hostile territory ruled by a terrorist group, according to the Associated Press.
The Government Press Office sent a letter to journalists and news organizations calling the flotilla "a dangerous provocation that is being organized by Western and Islamic extremist elements to aid Hamas," according to Ha'aretz.
Israel has restricted the movement of supplies and people in Gaza since Hamas took control there in 2007.
The Foreign Press Association accused the Israeli government of using "threats and intimidation" to stop coverage of the flotilla, which is scheduled to sail from Greece to the Gaza Strip this week, the Guardian reported.
Two of the ships are docked in Athens, while others, including an Irish ship, have already set sail from European ports. The ships are expected to join up in the Mediterranean before approaching Gaza, with the total number of people participating in the flotilla estimated to be as high as 500 passengers, the Associated Press said.
The flotilla is taking place about a year after a similar mission that was intercepted by Israeli naval commandos, resulting in the deaths of nine Turkish activists in the clashes. Israel would like to avoid a repeat of the events last year, which sparked international condemnation of Israel. The uproar that ensued led Israel to ease the blockade on Gaza, and hurt its relationship with Turkey, a key strategic ally, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
According to the Guardian:
A Dutch-Italian boat will carry three members of the European parliament and one member of the Israeli parliament. Passengers on the Audacity of Hope include the author Alice Walker and Hedy Epstein, an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor. Passengers have been undergoing training in non-violent resistance techniques and instruction in what to expect if Israeli soldiers board their ship. They have also been provided with T-shirts with the message "Unarmed Civilian."