Hamas on Sunday prevented dozens of children orphaned during its 50-day war with Israel from entering Israeli territory in a pre-arranged trip, organizers and officials said - despite Israel making the effort to allow the children to visit.
The week-long visit was planned for 37 children whose parents were killed by Israel in the Gaza Strip in July and August this year. It was organized by an Israeli kibbutz group and local Arab-Israeli officials.
Kibbutz Movement spokesman Yoel Marshak told AFP that the trip was supposed to allow the Palestinian Arab children, aged between 12 and 15, "to circulate and learn about Israeli children their age."
The group had been due to visit several Israeli kibbutzim close to the Gaza Strip and travel to Ramallah in the Palestinian Authority (PA) to meet PA Chairman Mahmud Abbas, Marshak said.
"The Shin Bet (security service) had given the green light for the children and their five minders to enter Israel," he added.
But Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, said the trip was cancelled as the children would have "had to visit settlements and occupied towns."
The Islamist terror group's interior ministry said the visit was forbidden in order to protect the children from "the politics of normalization" with Israel.
An AFP photographer saw Hamas security officers turn the 37 orphans away from the Erez border crossing with Israel on Sunday.
This is not the first time that Hamas has taken action that in essence punishes Gazans. In the past, it has refused to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority in allowing Gazans to cross into Israel for medical treatment, due to its longstanding row with the Fatah movement.