Comments by development minister spark diplomatic row with Israel

A statement by Belgian Development minister Caroline Gennez has sparked a diplomatic row with Israel, Het Laatste Nieuws reports. "Entire villages are being wiped off the map by the Israelis" in occupied Palestinian territories, she said in an interview. 

"Yesterday I was shocked to read the libellous and defamatory accusation made by Caroline Gennez in her interview in De Morgen," Idit Rosenzweig-Abu, Israel's ambassador to Belgium, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Wednesday.

The newspaper published an interview with Gennez on Monday about the new focus of Belgian humanitarian NGOs on "forgotten crises". "In the occupied Palestinian territories, for example, the situation is becoming unsustainable. Entire villages are being wiped off the map by the Israelis," she said.

"The periods of escalating violence are shorter than before, but more frequent and more intense. As a result, the population no longer has room to catch its breath. More Palestinians have already been injured and killed in violence since the beginning of this year than in all of 2022."

"I continue to denounce this out of respect for the efforts of the international community"

The remarks prompted the Israeli embassy in Belgium to send an "official letter of protest" to Gennez and the Belgian foreign ministry, Rosenzweig-Abu wrote. "The Belgian ambassador in Israel was summoned to the Israeli foreign ministry for reprimand and required to provide explanations," she said.

Gennez does not regret her statement, she said on Friday. "Belgium stands for a sustainable two-state solution in Israel-Palestine. When democracy and human rights come under pressure, anywhere in the world, we denounce it," she told Het Laatste Nieuws.

She elaborated on her comments on X on Friday afternoon. "2023 is unfortunately the deadliest year in a long time in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with 218 Palestinian deaths and 28 Israeli casualties. Palestinian deaths include 34 children," she wrote.

She added that the "systematic destruction of infrastructure" in Palestinian territory was driving whole communities out of their villages. "This infrastructure has often been co-paid for through international solidarity," she said. "I continue to denounce this out of respect for the efforts of the international community. A "serious conversation" with Rosenzweig-Abu is scheduled for 7 September.

Federal minister for Development Caroline Gennez © BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK

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