Palestinians walk through the Erez border crossing with Israel in the northern Gaza Strip as they cross into Gaza, on June 09, 2010. (Mahmud Hams-AFP-Getty Images)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A European parliament delegation that attempted to enter the besieged Gaza Strip to assess the residual damage of Israel’s 2014 military offensive was denied entry by Israeli authorities on Wednesday.
According to a statement released by the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with Palestine, Israeli authorities told the group that their entry was denied owing to the fact that only humanitarian workers and diplomats accredited by the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority (PA) are allowed access to Gaza, which has been held under an Israeli military blockade for a decade.
The statement noted that the delegation has been denied entry since 2011.
The delegation's statement decried the decision to refuse them access to Gaza, saying that the decision was based on “arbitrary grounds” and that the Israeli explanation was “unacceptable.”
“We had hoped that that visit had ushered in a new more cooperative era, but this has not been the case… What is there to hide from us? Our positions are well-known,” the statement read.
The delegation went on to demand the return of the PA to the Gaza Strip. “We urge all Palestinian forces to resume efforts towards reconciliation without delay, building on the latest unity deal reached in January,” the chairman of the delegation Neoklis Sylikiotis said.
He also called on the international community “to put pressure on Israel” in order to end the crippling Israeli siege on the Palestinian territory.
“On the ground in Gaza our aim is to assess the reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts to which the EU is the major donor. EU aid targets the promotion of employment and the poverty in Gaza. We are working to ensure the people in Gaza have access to basic necessities including potable drinking water, food, housing, and schools,” Sylikiotis added.
According to the statement, the delegation included Sylikiotis and four members of the European parliament: Margrete Auken (Denmark), Brando Benifei (Italy), Ivo Vajgl (Slovenia), and Angela Vallina (Spain).
The 2014 Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip caused the deaths of 2,251 Palestinians, 1,462 of them civilians, and 72 Israelis, five of them civilians, according to UN documentation.
A recent report adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in January stated that the humanitarian situation in Gaza had “significantly worsened” since 2014, adding that 17,650 families, amounting to some 100,000 people, were displaced by the conflict.
At least 142 Palestinian families have lost three or more members in attacks on residential buildings during the Israeli assault, the UN reported, adding that there were credible allegations that the incidents amounted to war crimes.
The Gaza Strip has suffered under an Israeli military blockade since 2007, when Hamas became the de facto ruling party in the territory.
Residents of Gaza suffer from high unemployment and poverty rates, as well as the consequences of three devastating Israeli military offenses since 2008.
The UN warned in 2015 that the besieged Palestinian territory could become “uninhabitable” by 2020 due to the ongoing Israeli military siege that has crippled Gaza's economy and infrastructure for its some two million residents.