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Israel's Supreme Court on Sunday ordered its government to allow free access to Gaza for foreign correspondents, rejecting a ban imposed even before the recent Israeli offensive there.

The ruling says the Israeli government must allow access to reporters whenever the borders are otherwise open. The court said it assumed the crossings would be closed "only in dire circumstances of concrete danger."

The Foreign Press Association, representing reporters based in Israel and the Palestinian areas, had appealed to overturn the ban.

The ruling "reinforces the protection of freedom of the press and the freedom of movement as fundamental rights that could be restricted only under extreme circumstances," said Gilead Sher, attorney for the organization.

Since the offensive ended, Israel has restored access to Gaza for reporters. The ruling would apply to future conflicts, Sher said.

Israel imposed restrictions on entry to Gaza in early November as a cease-fire with Gaza's Hamas rulers began to fray. It tightened the rules after launching a military offensive Dec. 27 and ignored a Supreme Court order six days later to allow limited access to international reporters.

Though the ban was instituted well before heavy fighting began, the government argued the security situation made it unsafe for journalists to visit.


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