World Bulletin/News Desk
The Palestinian Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip has barred 37 minors who lost parents in a recent Israeli offensive from travelling to Israel for a trip organized by the Seeds of Peace organization, which has offices in the West Bank and Israel.
The decision aimed at "protecting Gaza's children from normalization policies" with Israel, Interior Ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bazm said in a press release on Sunday.
Al-Bazm, as well as Israel's public radio, said that the Seeds for Peace program included a meeting with a group of Israeli children as well as visits to Israeli communities in the western Negev region.
For his part, Malik Farij, the director of Candle for Peace's office in Israel, denied the claims.
He asserted, in a statement on Sunday, that the children, aged 12-15, had been scheduled to meet a delegation of Palestinians who live in Israel and later head to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Farij also said that the trip included entertainment activities as means of offering psychological support to the war-traumatized children, calling on security agencies in the Gaza Strip to rescind the travel ban on the children.
Yoel Marshak, an activist named on the permit, said the group included children of Hamas fighters killed in the 50-day war. During their visit, Marshak said, the children were to have toured Arab towns in Israel as well as southern areas that had been under threat of Gaza rockets. They were also scheduled to attend a performance by a Jewish-Arab band and visit a mixed-race school, the Tel Aviv beach and a nearby safari.
He said that this time, advance Israeli media reports of the children's planned visit apparently led Hamas to cancel it.
"They (Gaza authorities) thought that Israel wants to exploit these children, and that's a mistake," Freij told Reuters next to the empty bus awaiting the group on the Israeli side of the Gaza border.
The UN estimated earlier this year that more than 400,000 children in the beleaguered Gaza Strip were in need of psychological counseling after having endured three major Israeli offensives within the past six years.
The latest onslaught, which ended on August 26 after 51 days of relentless bombardments, left over 2,160 Palestinians dead, including 570 children, according to official Palestinian figures.
The Seeds of Peace is a New-York based NGO which organizes "peace-building" camps for teenagers in conflict areas.
Last Mod: 28 Aralık 2014, 17:28