Belgian minister protests at 'unacceptable' Israeli block on Gaza visit

A BELGIAN politician has lodged an angry protest after the Israeli government intervened to prevent him from visiting Gaza.

Development minister Charles Michel has insisted European officials must be able to visit the territory because they have aid projects there.

"This situation is unacceptable," Mr Michel said in a television interview yesterday.

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Israel routinely bans foreign officials from crossing into Gaza, maintaining that such visits bolster the Islamic Hamas rulers of Gaza.

Meanwhile Israel's leader reaffirmed his country's permanent claim to parts of the West Bank yesterday, angering Palestinians again and complicating efforts by US president Barack Obama's Middle East envoy – though the claim has been made by previous, more moderate premiers.

Timing and context lent weight to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to two Jewish settlements during which he declared that they would remain part of Israel for ever.

He planted a tree at one of them – Maaleh Adumim, home to about 30,000 Israelis about two miles from Jerusalem – a symbolic act of ownership.

"Our message is clear: We are planting here, we will stay here, we will build here. This place will be an inseparable part of the state of Israel for eternity," Mr Netanyahu said, as envoy George Mitchell was trying to restart talks after a year's stalemate.