Israel defends refusal of Martin's visit


ISRAELI GOVERNMENT officials have defended the decision to refuse Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin permission to visit Gaza.

Mr Martin revealed during an Oireachtas committee meeting last week that his request to visit the territory had recently been turned down by the Israeli authorities. He told committee members that no substantive reason had been given. The trip was due to take place before Christmas.

The story made the front page of the Jerusalem Post yesterday under the headline: “Diplomatic flap with Dublin over Irish foreign minister’s desire to visit Gaza.”

The article noted “Ireland is considered in Jerusalem as one of the most critical countries toward Israel” among the 27 EU member states. It quoted foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor as saying he was not aware of a request by Mr Martin to visit Gaza. However, contacted by the Irish Times yesterday, Mr Palmor said the request to visit Gaza had been submitted to the Israeli defence ministry.

Asked why permission had been denied, Shlomo Dror, spokesman for the defence ministry, said: “We are not allowing politicians visit Gaza at the moment . . . We are not going to assist anyone in meeting members of the terrorist organisation ruling Gaza today.”

Mr Palmor, the foreign ministry spokesman, said the Israeli government’s view was that visiting dignitaries should not go to Gaza at this time because such a trip “could cause a security hazard, or it could be instrumentalised by the Hamas government for propaganda purposes”.

He stressed that Mr Martin was not being singled out, noting that French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner was also recently denied permission to visit the territory.

But several elected representatives have been permitted to enter Gaza from Israel this year. In February, just weeks after Israel’s military offensive, three US congressmen, including Senator John Kerry, visited Gaza. In July, five members of the Oireachtas committee on foreign affairs travelled there while on a trip to Israel and the West Bank.

In yesterday’s Jerusalem Post report, Mr Palmor said: “We were in the midst of preparations for [Mr Martin’s] 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.”

In Dublin, a Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said the trip had been called off because the Minister’s request to visit Gaza had been rejected. While Mr Martin intends to make another trip to the region, no dates have yet been set, she added.