MARY MINIHAN and MARY FITZGERALD
MINISTER FOR Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has been refused permission to visit Gaza by the Israeli authorities, he told an Oireachtas committee.
Speaking at the Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs yesterday, Mr Martin said no substantive reason had been given for the refusal. Similar requests from other European countries had also been turned down.
“I just wanted to go in myself and see Gaza,” he said.
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the initial request to visit Gaza had been made last month. The department had been advised by the Israeli government last week that access was not possible
A spokesman for the Israeli embassy said Mr Martin was not being singled out, and he was “always welcome” to visit Israel. “It is not the appropriate time to visit Gaza because of the Hamas terrorist regime that controls it. This can pose a . . . security risk,” the spokesman added.
Committee chairman Bernard Durkan condemned the decision. “This is totally intolerable. That an Irish foreign minister is not permitted to visit a region to assess a humanitarian situation is almost without precedent and is tantamount to censorship,” Mr Durkan said.
“The continuing blockade of Gaza by Israel is utterly unjustified . . . Denying access to our Minister for Foreign Affairs only serves to give the impression that Israel is unwilling to let the outside world see the suffering which is going on.”
Mr Martin told the committee that the humanitarian situation in Gaza was “completely unacceptable”. He said if progress was not realised quickly, “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 the Israeli government to provide “further clear evidence” it was serious about engaging in peace negotiations, “and not, instead, more preoccupied with simply managing what I fear could well escalate into a situation of incipient conflict”.
He called for a halt to settlement construction in east Jerusalem and elsewhere, and an end to the policy of forced evictions and demolition of homes.
Meanwhile, Ireland’s appointment to chair the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2012 was welcomed by committee members.