Flap over Irish FM desire to visit Gaza

Diplomatic flap with Dub

The Foreign Ministry denied Saturday night it had rejected a request by Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin to visit Gaza, following comments Martin made Thursday to an Irish parliamentary committee. According to a report in the Irish Times, Martin told an Irish Parliamentary Committee on European Affairs that he wanted to visit Gaza to evaluate the humanitarian situation, but that his request was rejected by Israel without any substantive reason given. But Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that "we were in the midst of preparations for his visit in a few weeks, until they asked to postpone the trip because he needed to participate in meetings in parliament. It was agreed that the visit would take place in March." Palmor said he did not know of a request to visit Gaza. Since Operation Cast Lead last winter, a number of statesmen have gone to Gaza, including US Sen. John Kerry and Northern Irish Republican leader Gerry Adams. Israel has made clear that it would not meet with leaders who, on the same trip, go to Gaza, meet with Hamas representatives, and then want to meet with Israeli officials. This policy led to the cancellation in September of a planned trip by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who called off a trip to Israel because Jerusalem would not assist him in entering Israel via Gaza. Martin, according to Irish media reports, told the parliamentary committee, "I just wanted to go in and see Gaza," and reportedly said that the "international community may need to reconsider what further pressure" it can exert on Israel to solve and bring about a "two-state settlement." Martin also said the humanitarian conditions in Gaza were "completely unacceptable." The Irish foreign minister asked Israel to provide "further clear evidence" that it was serious about peace with the Palestinians, and said he feared Israel was more concerned with "managing what I fear could well escalate into a situation of incipient conflict." Ireland is considered in Jerusalem as one of the most critical countries toward Israel among the 27 members of the European Union.