Israel denies EU committee access to Gaza Strip

Emer Costello MEP says members ‘astounded and dismayed at decision’

Palestinian schoolchildren throw flowers into the Seaport of Gaza City yesterday to commemorate  Palestinian migrants who died after their boat sank while fleeing Syria to Italy. Photograph: Suhaib Salem/Reuters

Palestinian schoolchildren throw flowers into the Seaport of Gaza City yesterday to commemorate Palestinian migrants who died after their boat sank while fleeing Syria to Italy. Photograph: Suhaib Salem/Reuters

Thu, Oct 24, 2013, 20:04

Israel has refused to allow a group of members of the European Parliament to undertake an official visit to the Gaza Strip, MEPs have said.

The visit was due to take place from October 27th to 30th under the auspices of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), and focused on schools, health and food distribution centres.

The MEP members of the Parliament’s Delegation to the Palestinian Legislative Council were also due to visit an EU-funded job programmes and hold meetings on education with students from the Christian community.

Members insisted the programme had a purely social, economic and humanitarian focus.

However, Dublin-based chair of the delegation Emer Costello said members were “astounded and dismayed at the decision of the Israeli authorities” to refuse permission for the visit. The visit had the full support of President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, she said.

“Despite interventions by President Schulz and other distinguished parliamentarians, the Israeli authorities are preventing elected members of an official delegation from paying a humanitarian visit to this ravaged and impoverished little country,” she said.

MEPs said they were told by Israeli authorities that Israel does not facilitate visits to the Gaza Strip that will strengthen Hamas.

Nevertheless, Ms Costello insisted no meetings with Hamas or representatives of Hamas were planned on the programme. “This decision is deplorable and without foundation,” she said.

News of the difficulty came as members of the European Parliament approved a budget provision for “financial assistance to Palestine, the peace process and UNRWA”, granting €300 million in funding to the region for 2014.

“I have requested that President Schulz and High Representative Catherine Ashton take up the issue with the Israeli authorities and that we continue with the mission. In the event that we are refused access to Gaza, it is envisaged that we meet with UNRWA in the West Bank,” Ms Costello said.