Netanyahu Frattini 311.
(photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom)
Some five months after Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman invited Italian
Foreign Minister Franco Frattini to organize a group of EU ministers to visit
the Gaza Strip, Frattini will go there Wednesday, but without any of his
Rather than visiting as a group, the foreign
ministers of some key EU states are visiting the region individually, after
getting permission from the Israeli government.
Gaza violence not expected to escalate, officials say
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Both German Foreign
Minister Guido Westerwelle and British Foreign Secretary William Hague were
shown EU projects in the Gaza Strip when they came to Israel earlier this month.
Neither of them met Hamas officials.
One Foreign Ministry source said
there was no blanket policy of allowing foreign visitors into Gaza, and that the
decision was being made on a case by case basis.
In June, when the Turkish
incident thrust the situation in Gaza to the top of the
international agenda, Lieberman visited Italy and invited Frattini to put
together a group of his colleagues to visit the Strip. This marked a radical
departure from Israel’s previous policy of refusing to allow visits of foreign
politicians to Gaza, something Israel – with a few noticeable expectations –
enforced for several years.
The rationale behind allowing the visits –
after stressing that they not include any contact with Hamas officials – was so
the foreign ministers could see the situation in Gaza for themselves and
recognize that there was no siege, hunger or humanitarian crisis in the
district, one Foreign Ministry official said. He added that this would also rob
critics abroad from being able to say Israel was trying to hide something by
keeping foreign ministers out.
Up until June, Israel’s argument for
preventing these types of visits was to deny Hamas a public relations coup, with
government spokesmen arguing that the organization would use the visits of
foreign politicians to strengthen its legitimacy.
One Foreign Ministry
official said that the diplomats who have visited Gaza recently have not allowed
themselves to be manipulated by Hamas for its own purposes.
embassy issued a statement saying that before going into Gaza through the Erez
Crossing on Wednesday, Frattini will be briefed by Coordinator of Government
Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot.
diplomatic official said it was significant that Dangot would brief him before
going into Gaza and give the Italian foreign minister a picture of the goods and
materials now being shipped into Gaza, since once inside he would likely be told
by UN officials and others that there has not been any change in the situation
facing the population there as a result of Israel’s easing of restrictions on
goods and materials allowed into the region.
For instance, John Ging, the
Gaza director of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), told the BBC earlier
this month that there has been “no material change” for the population of Gaza
despite Israel easing restrictions in the summer.
Ging said that for
people on the ground nothing had changed “in terms of their status, the aid
dependency, the absence of any recovery or reconstruction, [and] no
According to Ging, the easing of the Israeli blockade on Gaza
“has been nothing more than a political easing of the pressure on Israel and
The EU’s representative to the West Bank, Gaza and UNRWA,
Christian Berger, said last month that there has been a vast improvement in the
consumer goods now available in Gaza, but that only a few people had the money
to buy them.
The failure of the EU foreign ministers to come to Gaza as a
group – as initially planned – has been attributed to internal EU bureaucratic
and political squabbles.