GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza's Hamas rulers prevented a group of children from entering Israel on Sunday for a postwar conciliatory trip meant to foster peace, Hamas and organizers said.
The 37 children, most of whom have lost a parent in fighting between Hamas and Israel, were to enter Israel on Sunday and spend a week visiting Jewish and Arab communities and a zoo. They were also going to travel to the West Bank for a meeting with the Palestinian president.
But a bus carrying the children and their adult chaperones was turned back when it reached the main crossing between Gaza and Israel. Hamas spokesman Eyad Bozum said the decision was made "to protect the culture of our children and our people" from normalizing relations with Israel. He said Hamas would make sure such a trip "will never happen again."
Israel and Hamas fought a 50-day war this summer that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and caused heavy damage in the impoverished coastal enclave. On the Israeli side, the fighting killed 72 people and disrupted the lives of millions of people.
Yoel Marshak, an Israeli organizer, said the visit was meant to a show a positive side of Israel and promote peace.
"These children will one day be the leaders of Gaza and they would have remembered this trip and known that we can live in peace, side by side," he said.
Marshak said he received written approval for the trip three weeks ago from Hamas and that the cancellation came as a surprise. He said he and other organizers were working to reorganize the trip.
Said Abu Luli, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy whose father was killed in an electrical accident in 2009, said he was disappointed he could not make the trip.
"I was very happy that I will go and was saddened when we were prevented," he said in a telephone interview. "I was hoping to visit the places in the West Bank and our lands in Palestine," he added.
Associated Press writers Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed reporting.