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Israel bans EU MPs from Gaza

Dec. 9, 2009 12:42 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 10, 2009 9:51 P.M.)
Gaza – Ma’an – Israel banned a delegation of European members of parliament from entering the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing on Wednesday, despite previously approving the visit, the EU said.

“Israel had yesterday afternoon granted final permission for all members of our delegation to travel,” the European Parliament group said in a statement.

“However, some three hours later entry for all members of the delegation was rescinded ’on security grounds,’ without further explanation,”

“We insist on a full explanation of the security risks claimed by Israel,” the statement continued. “We received the news of the cancellation with bewilderment and dismay.”

“It is extremely curious that the cancellation came within a few hours of the announcement of the EU Council statement re-affirming Europe’s strong position in favor of an independent Palestinian state based on 1967 borders and an end to settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” the statement added.

They were referring to a statement issued on Tuesday by the EU's foreign ministers calling for Jerusalem to become the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state.

The European delegation said it planned to check on humanitarian conditions in Gaza, meet with UNRWA operations director John Ging, and hold talks with members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).

They said they intended to urge PLC members to reconcile with their colleagues in the rival Palestinian administration in Ramallah.

Palestinian sources confirmed that the delegation was scheduled to cross into Gaza at 8am on Wednesday for meetings with UNRWA and PLC officials.

A spokesman for Israel’s Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The delegation included Prosinsias De Rossa of Ireland, Kyriacos Triantaphyllides of Cyprus, Potit Salatto of Italy, Rosario Crocetta of Italy, Alexandra Thein of Germany, Nicole Kiil Neilsen of France, Robert Atkins of Britain, and Georgios Toussas of Greece.

Palestinian lawmaker Jamal Al-Khudari, who heads the Popular Committee Against the Israeli Siege of Gaza, said that prohibiting the entry of the delegation was the latest in a string of incidents where top European government officials were banned from Gaza.

Last week Irish Foreign Minister Michel Martin said he had been denied a request to enter Gaza.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto’lu and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner were also barred from Gaza recently.

The European delegation also said that the denial of access into Gaza was minor compared to Israeli violations of Palestinians’ rights: “The inconvenience caused to our delegation is minor compared to the constant tension and harassment to which Palestinians live with in the occupied territories including house demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem, and the appalling conditions under which the people are living in Gaza as reported to us by ECHO, the European Commission Humanitarian Aid office.”

They added that the ban “does not improve the relationship between this Israeli government and the European Parliament.”

“By denying elected members of the European Parliament the opportunity to meet our democratically-elected counterparts of the PLC is an unacceptable interference in the democratic process, and is contrary to international law,” the statement added.

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