Israel bars Belgian minister from Gaza



Israel bars Belgian minister from Gaza Jerusalem: Israel has barred the Belgian Development Minister from going to the Gaza Strip, saying his visit would give legitimacy to the Islamist Hamas movement running the territory.

"These kinds of visits can only strengthen Hamas and give it legitimacy," Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in a statement.

"We allow humanitarian assistance to enter Gaza, including food and medication, but we will not allow political visits that bolster Hamas," he said yesterday.

Belgian Cooperation and Development Minister Charles Michel protested that Israel's action was "unacceptable" and said he would take the matter to the European Union, Belgium's private RTL-TVI television station reported.

Israel and Egypt have sealed Gaza off from all but vital goods since the Islamist movement seized power in June 2007 after a week of bloody street battles with forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Belgium has pledged funds for UN agencies to help Palestinian refugees to build schools in Gaza but construction has not begun because of Israel's obstruction.

Amnesty International last week accused Israel of "collectively punishing" the population of Gaza with border closures tightened after the Hamas takeover.

PTI