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Israel bars German official from Gaza

BERLIN (JTA) — Israel has barred a German politician from entering Gaza, allegedly after first granting him permission to enter the Hamas-controlled territory. 

Dirk Niebel, federal minister of economic cooperation and development, told the German news agency DPA that the Israeli Foreign Ministry blocked his visit to Gaza scheduled for Sunday after he had received the go-ahead from Israel’s Ministry of Defense on June 17.

The Foreign Ministry reportedly was concerned about Hamas using such high-level political visits for propaganda purposes.

Niebel was in the middle of a four-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The secretary-general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Stephan Kramer, said in Monday’s edition of the NRZ newspaper that he found Israel’s decision unfortunate, since Niebel is a friend of Israel. But Kramer also criticized the politician for "allowing the issue to become exacerbated."

Niebel, a vice president of the German-Israel Society, was scheduled to meet Monday with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Niebel told reporters that he welcomed news that Israel would be relaxing its blockade to allow all but military goods to pass through to Gaza.

He said he had wanted to visit a sewage treatment plant in Gaza that Germany helped construct.

"It’s getting harder for a friend of Israel to explain to their own people why Israel responds as it does," Niebel told reporters in Jerusalem.

Israel has allowed high-level officials into Gaza, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton into Gaza, but “we can’t allow every minister and politician in, and we’ve made this clear enough, so no one should act surprised by our policy,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told Bloomberg in a phone interview.

“Every time we let somebody into Gaza, Hamas uses their presence to manipulate public opinion and to present it as a sign of recognition by the international community,” he said.
 

In an open letter dated Tuesday, Johannes Gerster, president of the German-Israel Society, said his board would meet with Niebel to discuss the matter. "When friends like members of the German and Israeli governments fight in public, it hurts both and benefits only those who want to sow discord," his letter read in part.

Gerster said he regretted the apparent mixed messages from Israel regarding Niebel’s planned visit to Gaza. But he added that Israel’s Embassy in Germany had reiterated its faith in Niebel’s friendship "even after the [current] irritations".

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