Israel has decided to block Swiss diplomats’ access to the Gaza Strip, news agencies have reported. The move was made in response to continued contact between Swiss officials and the Palestinian group Hamas.
Citing an anonymous source, AFP reported the decision by Israel defence minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday to stop Swiss officials going from Israeli territory into the Gaza Strip. The information was also broadcast by Israeli military radio.
Contacted by the Swiss News Agency, the Swiss foreign ministry in Bern said it had also learned of the decision via media sources, and was in contact with Israeli authorities to clarify and – in the case of confirmation – to find a solution.
The news comes as the Palestinian faction Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organisation by Israel, the European Union, and the United States, and rival Fatah prepare to hand over power in the Gaza Strip to the Western-backed Palestinian government. On Wednesday, they agreed to delay the transfer to December 10 in order to complete arrangements.
Lines of dialogue
Hamas has been in power since 2007 in a region devastated by conflict, blockades, and economic collapse; over 40% of the active population is unemployed, while the poverty rate approaches the same level.
True to its commitment to mediation, peacebuilding and promotion of human rights, Switzerland has always kept lines of dialogue open with Hamas and other militant groups, while diplomats from other states are often precluded from contact.
The current ire of the Israelis comes after Julien Thöni, the Swiss representative to the Palestinian Authority, met Hamas strongman Yahya Sinouar on Tuesday.
According to Israeli military radio, it seems that the public reporting of the meeting – on the website of Hamas – was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
AFP quoted the source as saying that the block would remain in place until “clarifications” were provided.
swissinfo.ch and agencies/dos