'Belgian minister can't visit Gaza'

Deputy FM: Visits to Strip give legitimacy to Hamas, aid will be embezzled.

Belgian Minister Michel meets Fayyad in Ramallah, Sunday (photo credit: AP)
Belgian Minister Michel meets Fayyad in Ramallah, Sunday
(photo credit: AP)
Israel has denied Belgian International Development Minister Charles Michel's request to visit the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported Sunday evening.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told the Belgian minister that Israel could not authorize the request, as official visits to the Strip are interpreted as giving legitimacy to Hamas.
Ayalon added that any humanitarian aid that Belgium passes onto Hamas would, in the end, be embezzled by terrorists, and would not reach those in need.
In a press statement, Michel said, "It's not normal that access to Gaza is denied to a minister whose country is funding projects there."
Belgium provides humanitarian aid to Gazans via two different UN agencies.
In December 2009, The Jerusalem Post reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government has an undeclared but de facto policy of not letting senior political figures, such as foreign ministers, enter the Gaza Strip from Israel.
According to government officials, the reasoning is twofold: to deny Hamas legitimacy that would come of such visits, and as a way of trying to apply pressure over kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit.
The policy came to light after Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin told a parliamentary committee that Israel had banned a visit he had hoped to make to Gaza.
Prior to Netanyahu's coming to power on March 31, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, and US Sen. John Kerry were all allowed into the area.
Since then, such high-level visits have, for all intents and purposes, stopped.
Northern Irish Republican leader Gerry Adams went to Gaza in early April, but that was less than two weeks into the Netanyahu government.
Israel has also refused requests by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to visit Gaza.