JERUSALEM – Israel's military announced Sunday it would end a sweeping ban on entering occupied Palestinian areas in the West Bank.
Restrictions will remain, however, in three key areas: Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's besieged compound in the city of Ramallah; Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, site of a standoff between troops and scores of militants holed up inside; and the town of Jenin, which saw the deadliest battles last week.
The army's decision came in response to a growing chorus of protest from media groups, which have called on the military to stop interfering with coverage of the army's 17-day-old offensive.
"We are, as of today, allowing the entry of journalists into the different areas controlled by the Israel Defense Forces," said Lt. Col. Olivier Rafowicz, a military spokesman.
But he added that entry of journalists would still require "coordination" with the army, and that some areas "will remain closed because of operational reasons which cause a danger to the journalists."
He said that entry into the West Bank cities of Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Nablus would, in principle, be allowed.
Last Tuesday, six groups representing journalists -- the local Foreign Press Association and five international bodies -- issued a joint statement calling on the Israeli government to lift the ban on reporters, calling it "excessive, unjustifiable and utterly counterproductive."
Journalists also had been preparing a court challenge against the policy.
Attorney Gilead Sher said he had held intensive contacts with military authorities in recent days on behalf of the local Foreign Press Association and that "a planned petition on the matter to the Supreme Court is currently on hold" as a result of Sunday's announcement.
Earlier Sunday, journalists were blocked by the military from entering Ramallah, Jenin and other areas, and some video equipment was seized.
Some reporters were allowed into Jenin on a pool basis, however.
There is heated controversy over how many Palestinians were killed during the assault on the city's refugee camp last week. Israel labeled Palestinian charge of a massacre "propaganda," but Israel's own Supreme Court halted the army's intention to bury the bodies of those killed there, a plan Palestinians said was part of a coverup. The court was hearing petitions against the army later Sunday.