Israeli authorities have prevented a European parliamentary delegation from visiting the Gaza Strip which has long been under a crippling siege.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to ban high-profile diplomats from entering Gaza under the pretext that such a visit may grant legitimacy to Hamas, which seized the coastal strip in 2007, Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post reported on Tuesday.
The ban came hours after the European Union called on Israeli and Palestinian officials to sit down at the negotiating table to discuss Jerusalem Al-Quds — which both sides claim as their future capital.
The lawmakers were scheduled to inspect areas struck by Israel’s operation in Gaza last winter, meet officials from the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and hold talks with senior members of Hamas movement.
On Wednesday, the European parliament, meanwhile, demanded a convincing explanation as to why Israel prevented a delegation of lawmakers from traveling to the Gaza Strip despite initially sanctioning the visit.
"Israel had yesterday afternoon granted final permission for all members of our delegation to travel. However, some three hours later entry for all members of the delegation was rescinded ‘on security grounds’, without further explanation," it said in a statement.
"We insist on a full explanation of the security risks claimed by Israel," it noted.
The statement added, "It is extremely curious that the cancellation came within a few hours of the announcement of the EU Council statement re-affirming Europe’s strong position in favor of an independent Palestinian state based on 1967 borders and an end to settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem Al-Quds."
The European Union nations agreed on Tuesday that Jerusalem Al-Quds should be the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state.
Israel imposed a crippling siege on the Gaza Strip in 2007 after the Hamas movement took full control of the territory on the suspicion that Fatah security forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the acting Palestinian Authority chief, were planning to stage a coup and overthrow the democratically-elected government of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
The Israeli army meanwhile launched a massive military offensive, known as Operation Cast Lead against the coastal Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009. More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed during the three-week offensive, which inflicted USD 1.6 billion damage on the Gaza economy.