Israel Denies Gaza Entry to Belgium Minister

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Israel's Foreign Ministry denied a Belgium minister's request to visit the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported Sunday evening.

At a meeting Sunday morning in Jerusalem, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told International Development Minister Charles Michel that Hamas uses visits by senior diplomats to bolster its international status.

"Your visit would only bolster Hamas and legitimize it," the deputy prime minister explained. We deny such requests "to prevent Hamas from using these visits in a detrimental way."

Michel argued that Belgium funds projects in the Strip, vis-à-vis two U.N. agencies, and he should be allowed to visit.

"It's not normal that access to Gaza is denied a minister whose country is funding projects there," Michel said in a press statement.

"You're in good company," Ayalon said. "The French foreign minister [Bernard Kouchner] and a Turkish minister [FM Ahmet Davutoglu] were also denied a permit to visit Gaza."

Ayalon assured Michel that no humanitarian crisis exists in Gaza.

"The humanitarian aid reaches Gaza, from food to medicine - all the way to windowpanes," Ayalon said. "Political visits, however, are prohibited," he said.

During the Olmert administration, a number of senior foreign officials, including U.S. Senator John Kerry, E.U. Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana, and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, visited Gaza, as did U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

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The Jerusalem Post and Ynet contributed to this report.

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