BERLIN — German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Sunday criticized Israel's decision to deny a German minister entry to Gaza.

"I regret the decision by the Israeli government to refuse to let German Development Minister Dirk Niebel into Gaza," Westerwelle said in a statement. "It remains the German government's goal to completely end the blockade of Gaza. This is not only Germany's belief, but also that of our partners in the European Union."

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Israel imposed a blockade of Gaza three years ago after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip.

Westerwelle said German government officials, including himself, had asked their Israeli counterparts several times to allow Niebel to enter Gaza.

Niebel is currently on an official three-day trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories. He wanted to go to Gaza on Sunday to visit a sewage plant financed with German aid, a ministry spokesman said.

"We were in negotiations about the Gaza visit with the Israelis until the very last moment and only got their refusal on Saturday," Sebastian Lesch told The Associated Press.

The German daily newspaper Leipziger Volkszeitung quoted Niebel as saying that denying him entry "is a big foreign policy mistake by the Israeli government," adding that "Israel is making it hard, even for its most faithful friends, to understand its behavior."

Westerwelle and Niebel are members of Germany's pro-business Free Democrats.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, said the refusal was standard policy.

"We have a clear, coherent policy. Ministers don't go in. He's not the first not to go in," Palmor said. "We let in people who represent bigger groups ... but not from individual countries. There's nothing new here."

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