Belgian Development Minister denied access to Gaza by Israel

Belgian Development Minister denied access to Gaza by Israel
Meryame Kitir. Credit: Belga

While Belgium's Development and Cooperation Minister Meryame Kitir was supposed to visit Gaza on Wednesday, the planned visit will not take place as the Israeli authorities have refused to grant her permission to enter the Palestinian territory.

Kitir is visiting Palestine this week and was due to visit a waste treatment project in Gaza, in which Belgium is participating through the UN Development Programme. But the visit was cancelled after being denied access by Israeli authorities.

"The Israeli authorities have made it clear that they do not allow political visits to Gaza at this time," Kitir's spokesperson told the Belga News Agency.

The crossing-points to Gaza are controlled by Egypt and Israel  and Israel  has the power to refuse visits from its side of the border. Instead, Kitir will travel to Bethlehem where she will visit various cooperation projects, according to her cabinet.

A visit to Gaza is not straightforward, and most Belgian ministers have been refused entry in recent years.

In 2010, then-Development Coordinator Minister Charles Michel was already denied entry, and while former Foreign Minister Didier Reynders was granted permission to visit in 2016, all ministers who tried in later years were barred.

Gaza is ruled by Hamas which is labelled a terrorist organisation by Israel and the EU. One year after the Gaza-Israel war in May 2021 ended with an unconditional cease-fire, little has change. There is still no political horizon and plan for a long-term reconstruction to prevent future outbreaks of violence.

The recent month of Ramadan saw an increase of tension in Jerusalem and incitement to violence by Hamas.  While both sides want calm, there is still a risk of escalation which can trigger a new war.

The fact that Kitir opted to only visit Palestinian territories may have played a part in her being denied entry to Gaza. By choosing not to visit Israeli territories, she broke the Belgian diplomatic tradition's unwritten rule of visiting both sides.

Additionally, her visit follows a period of unrest and a terror wave which is still hitting  Israel. 19 Israelis have been killed in seven attacks in the past six weeks and over 20 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces.

Kitir's working visit to Palestine ends on Friday.

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