Hamas bans orphans whose parents died in Gaza bombing from goodwill holiday trip to beach in Israel

The visit was agreed by Arab and Israeli officials to show the 37 children ‘that we can live in peace’

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The Hamas militant group has banned 37 orphans in Gaza from visiting Israel in a trip agreed by both sides to show they can live “in peace, side by side”.

Both Arab and Israeli officials and security services had signed off on the holiday visit three weeks ago. It was designed to allow children who lost parents in the summer’s bombing of Gaza to see a beach in Tel Aviv and a zoo over a week’s holiday.

But their bus was stopped at the main border crossing between Gaza and Israel and turned back, after Hamas criticised what it called the children’s “suspicious” itinerary.

In a statement, the Gazan interior ministry said it wanted to protect the children from “the politics of normalisation”, and that such a goodwill trip would “never happen again”.

The orphans were to be accompanied by five adult chaperones, and there was talk of letting the children meet Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas during a planned tour of the occupied West Bank.

Yoel Marshak, an activist named on the permit for the trip, said the group included children of Hamas fighters killed in the 50-day war, which according to the Gaza Health Ministry claimed more than 2,100 Palestinian lives. Israel has put its death toll at 67 troops and six civilians.

During their visit, Marshak said, the children were to have toured Arab towns in Israel and southern areas that had been under threat of Gaza rockets. They were also scheduled to attend a performance by a Jewish-Arab band and visit a mixed school.

He 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,” Marshak 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 the visit was organised as a combined effort by kibbutz leaders, the charity Candle for Peace and Arab-Israeli officials.

Malek Freij, Candle for Peace’s director, said he feared Hamas had acted after news of the children’s trip started to emerge in the Israeli media.

He said: “They thought that Israel wants to exploit these children, and that’s a mistake.”