Hamas Slams German Foreign Minister's Refusal to Meet

Militant group furious at snub from Guido Westerwelle during Gaza visit.

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The Hamas administration in the Gaza on Monday slammed as "insulting" the refusal by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to meet it while visiting the strip.

Senior Hamas leader and legislator Kamal Shrafi said that while the Islamist Palestinian movement welcomed a visit by an official of his standing, it was "completely wrong to come to Gaza and not meet with the legal government's representative."

Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle (L) walks past a mural during a visit to a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school in Gaza City November 8, 2010Credit: Reuters

Westerwelle is the first German government official to visit the Gaza Strip in nearly four years. On Monday, he visited a girls' school and toured a water treatment plant.

He said he would not meet Hamas over its repeated refusal to renounce violence, honour previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and accept Israel's right to exist. Hamas, which has administered the Gaza Strip since June 2007, is subject to a Western diplomatic boycott.

"We really condemn the refusal of officials and diplomats to hold talks with the Palestinian government, which was legally elected with transparency by the Palestinian people. Every official arriving in Gaza did not meet with anybody here, and this is really
insulting," Shrafi said.

Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, but a unity government set up with President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party was dismissed after Hamas militants routed security officials loyal to Abbas and the Palestinian Authority and seized full control of the enclave.

Abbas also dismissed Hamas leader Ismail Haniya from his post of prime minister, a dismissal Hamas did not accept.

"We are legal government, and I believe that it is completely wrong to come to Gaza and not meet with the legal government's representatives," Shrafi said.

Westerwelle also met with Gaza businessmen Monday to discuss economic problems in the enclave, which has been under an Israeli blockade since the summer of 2006.

At a press conference along with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman in Jerusalem following his arrival on Sunday, Westerwelle called on Israel to allow exports to leave Gaza, saying such a move was "necessary."

Israel imposed its blockade after militants from the enclave, led by Hamas, launched a raid in which they snatched an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who is still being held.

The blockade was significantly tightened after the Hamas seizure of the Strip, but was eased in the summer of this year, although Israel still does not permit exports to leave.

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