Israel Blocks French Envoys From Bastille Day Party in Gaza

Officially, diplomats didn't submit request in time, but source says move meant to protest Shalit captivity.

Israeli authorities on Tuesday refused to allow more than a dozen French diplomats entry into the Gaza Strip, where they planned to take part in a Bastille Day celebration.

A senior security source said the 15 diplomats and East Jerusalem consulate employees were denied entry as part of an Israeli protest over the fact that Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit is still captive in the Gaza Strip without basic rights.

"They [the diplomats] should not be allowed to celebrate a holiday marking freedom and human rights for the people of Gaza while Gilad Shalit remains in captivity," said the source.

Israel objected to France's plan to hold a Bastille Day celebration in Gaza particularly in light of the fact that Shalit, who was abducted by Hamas militants in a 2006 cross-border raid, has dual French-Israeli citizenship.

During a Bastille Day celebration at the French embassy in Jaffa, Ambassador Jean Michel Casa declared that Shalit must immediately be freed, a sentiment shared by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The French Consulate in East Jerusalem serves as liaison with the West Bank and has a small delegation in the Gaza Strip, as well.

Israel officially denied the consulate's request for 15 entry visas - made earlier Tuesday - on the grounds that such requests must be submitted 48 hours in advance.

A Foreign Ministry source said that French Consulate must have been well aware that the diplomats would not be granted the permits, accusing them of "trying to be provocative" and blame Israel for ruining the French holiday.

"The French consulate employees are known to be provocative and every week it's a different story with them," said the source.