Irish slammed for Gaza ban

By Anthony Garvey, December 10, 2009
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The Israeli government has been sharply criticised in the Irish parliament for refusing Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin permission to visit Gaza.

Some members called the refusal “intolerable” and “an insult”, while the chair of the parliament’s committee on European affairs, Bernard Durkan, claimed the decision “serves to give the impression that Israel is unwilling to let the outside world see the suffering that is going on”.

Mr Martin, tipped by many to be the next Irish taoiseach (prime minister), told the committee he had been given “no substantial reason” for the refusal, though he acknowledged similar requests from other European countries had been turned down.

The request had been made last month, he said, and his department had been advised by the Israeli government last week that “access was not possible”. He added: “I just wanted to go in myself and see Gaza.”

A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Dublin said the minister had not been singled out, and that he was “always welcome” to visit Israel.

According to the Irish Times, an Israeli Defence Ministry spokesman, Shlomo Dror, said: “We are not allowing politicians to visit Gaza at the moment,” he said. “We are not going to assist anyone in meeting members of the terrorist organisation ruling Gaza today.”

Mr Durkan, a prominent member of the main Irish opposition party, Fine Gael, led the criticism of the Israeli decision. “That an Irish foreign minister is not permitted to visit a region to assess a humanitarian situation is almost without precedent,” he said. “It is totally intolerable and tantamount to censorship.”

Similar criticisms were voiced by another Fine Gael member, Billy Timmins, the party’s foreign affairs spokesman, and by the Labour Party’s Joe Costello.

Speaking to the committee, Mr Martin described the humanitarian situation in Gaza as “completely unacceptable”.

He warned that if steps were not made soon to ease the situation, “then the international community as a whole may need to reconsider what further pressure it can bring in favour of achieving a negotiated, two-state settlement”.

He urged Israel to provide “further clear evidence” that it was serious about peace negotiations, “and not, instead, be preoccupied with simply managing what I fear could well escalate into a situation of incipient conflict”.

    Last updated: 3:39pm, December 10 2009