Five European parliamentarians said Wednesday that Israeli authorities prevented them from entering the Gaza Strip.
“The refusal of access to Gaza by the Israeli authorities to the European Parliament on arbitrary grounds is unacceptable,” Cypriot MEP Neoklis Sylikiotis said in a statement.
Similar delegations of European lawmakers have been barred from entering the Palestinian coastal enclave since 2011, the statement added, though a team led by the head of the European Parliament’s budget committee was allowed to visit once.
“What is there to hide from us?” Sylikiotis said, condemning what he called “systematic” entry bans.
Israel, which controls all access to Gaza apart from its southern border with Egypt, explained that parliamentarians were not among those allowed to enter the Hamas-run territory.
“Israeli policy allows professional and humanitarian officials to cross between Israel and the Gaza Strip for the development of the Gaza Strip in the field of economy and infrastructure, in addition to foreign diplomats serving in the Palestinian Authority or Israel,” the defense ministry body responsible for approving entry told AFP.
Sylikiotis dismissed the explanations as “unacceptable,” and called on the international community to pressure Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza.
On Tuesday the delegation visited Israel’s Ofer Prison in the West Bank, where Palestinian security prisoners are held, and Sylikiotis took to Twitter to criticize Israel for jailing minors.
EP Del. for relations to #Palestine visited Ofer today.The conviction of palestinian children by the military is unacceptable and inhumane.
— Neoklis Sylikiotis (@sylikiotis) February 21, 2017
The European Union is the largest donor of financial aid to the Palestinians.
Israel says its maritime, land and sea blockade of Gaza is aimed at preventing Hamas from receiving weapons and supplies which could be used for military purposes. An Islamist terror group, Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, seeks the destruction of Israel, and has fought three wars with the Jewish state since 2008.
The World Bank and the United Nations say the decade-long blockade of Gaza has killed virtually all exports and severely damaged the enclave’s economy.
The blockade, coupled with the almost permanent closure of the Egyptian border, impacts almost all the two million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip.