Israel bars EU lawmakers from entering Gaza

19:04, December 09, 2009      

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The Israeli army on Wednesday prevented a European parliamentary delegation from entering the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, the delegation said.

The delegation, which comprises nine lawmakers from several European Union (EU) states, had held contact with the Israeli authorities to facilitate their entry to Gaza.

"The visit was canceled three hours prior to the scheduled visit," the delegation said in a statement.

Palestinian sources said the delegation had already arrived at Erez crossing point in northern Gaza Strip before Israeli soldiers turned the legislators back.

The ban comes hours after the EU called on Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate on Jerusalem as the future capital of two states.

According to the statement, the Israeli army cited "security concerns" in denying the delegation's entry.

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 members of the deposed Hamas government.

On Tuesday, Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to ban high-profile diplomats from entering Gaza because he believes such visits may grant legitimacy to Hamas which seized the coastal strip by force in 2007.

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