France says Israel blocks water equipment for Gaza

PARIS Fri Jan 30, 2009 2:40pm GMT

PARIS (Reuters) - Israel has blocked attempts to get a water purification station into Gaza and the equipment must now be brought back to France, the French Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Eric Chevallier said France had complained to Israel about its refusal to let in the equipment and had still not received a satisfactory explanation.

"An important amount of aid was let in (to Gaza), but for reasons which we have difficulty to explain, the water purification could not enter," he told a news conference.

"We have decided to repatriate it."

Chevallier said the equipment was badly needed in Gaza, which is reeling from a 22-day Israeli offensive. Officials had hoped to transport it across the Israel-Gaza border last Sunday but were denied access.

France summoned Israel's ambassador to complain after French diplomats were blocked for hours on the Jewish state's border with the Gaza Strip.

Chevallier said the fate of the water unit was also raised but Israel refused to budge.

"There were a very great number of steps taken at all levels to try to get the water purification station into Gaza," he said.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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