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Israel stops Belgian minister from entering Gaza

Israel has barred Belgian Development Minister Charles Michel from crossing the border into Gaza, saying the "political" visit would legitimize the Hamas-led government.

Israel's Karni commercial border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip

Israel tightly restricts all border crossings into Gaza

A Belgian official has protested an Israeli decision denying him entry into the Gaza Strip, calling it "unacceptable."

Israel barred Belgian Cooperation and Development Minister Charles Michel from entering Gaza, saying the visit would only legitimize the Islamist Hamas movement which currently controls the territory.

"These kinds of visits can only strenghten Hamas and give it legitimacy," Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in a statement. "We allow humanitarian assistance to enter Gaza, including food and medication, but we will not allow political visits that bolster Hamas."

Private Belgian television channel RTL-TV reported Michel would take the matter to the European Union.

Gazan isolation

Belgium has given financial support to UN agencies to help Palestinian refugees build schools in Gaza, but Israel has thus far prevented construction.

Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel, took control of the Gaza strip in June 2007 after a week of deadly street fighting against forces supporting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom the West supports.

Last week, human rights group Amnesty International accused Israel of "collectively punishing" the Gazan population with its tightened border closures since the Hamas takeover.

Banning foreign officials from crossing into Gaza is routine for Israel. Officials can, however, enter Gaza from Egypt.

acb/AFP/AP

Editor: Mark Hallam

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