Dutch Premier's Israel Trip Hit by Gaza Row
A visit to Israel by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Sunday was marred by a dispute over a new security scanner on the Gaza border, an Israeli official said.
Rutte was to have inaugurated the scanner on the frontier with the Hamas-ruled enclave, but the ceremony was put off because of the row.
Installation of the Dutch scanner, which would have been used to verify the contents of containers from Gaza destined for export, was postponed after the Netherlands made unexpected demands," the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Technically, there is no problem about the scanner at the Kerem Shalom crossing through which goods originating in Gaza pass," the official said.
"But the Dutch suddenly imposed political conditions, notably on the percentage of merchandise destined for the West Bank or abroad.
"These are political issues that need to be resolved at the highest level, which will delay the start-up of the scanner."
Media reports said the row meant the ceremony at the crossing originally due for Sunday, with Rutte present, was cancelled.
The focus of the dispute is exports from Gaza to Judea and Samaria, which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA) under president Mahmoud Abbas.
Dutch officials had hoped the scanner might boost commerce between Gaza and the PA in Judea and Samaria, the media reports said.
After one of its soldiers, Gilad Shalit, was captured in 2006 by Gaza-based terrorists, Israel imposed a blockade on the Palestinian enclave.
It reinforced this in 2007 after Hamas ousted secular Fatah forces loyal to Abbas.
There was also a diplomatic spat in Judea and Samaria, where Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, travelling with Rutte, cancelled a planned event rather than accept an Israeli military escort, a Dutch foreign ministry official said.
Timmermans had planned to visit PA Arabs in the Judean city of Hevron's old center.
"It was the minister himself who decided to cancel that part of the visit," Ahmed Dadou, a spokesman for Timmermans, told AFP in The Hague.
"It's normal to be accompanied by the Israeli military in the part occupied by settlers but it's not usual in the Palestinian part," he said.
"Other foreign ministers have previously visited the city unaccompanied by Israeli soldiers in the Palestinian sector and Mr. Timmermans did not want to accept this new condition in order not to set a precedent."
Timmermans instead visited a Palestinian dairy in another part of the city, where about 700 Jews live under Israeli army protection surrounded by nearly 200,000 Palestinians.