Martin urges end to Gaza blockade

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin today pleaded with Israel to end the blockade of Gaza and vowed Ireland would continue to speak out on the issue

During his historic first trip to the occupied territory, Mr Martin said the blockade was affecting ordinary people and helping swell the ranks of the Islamic Hamas administration. His claim was backed by Gaza business chiefs who claimed it was breeding another generation of hostility and hatred.

Mr Martin visited UN-operated schools, a food distribution centre and met with business leaders to witness first-hand the hardships suffered by 1.5 million people.

“I would appeal to the Israeli Government and all concerned to lift this blockade,” Mr Martin said. “When you see it first hand you see how it’s choking the life out of ordinary Palestinians and how it’s creating a very bleak presence for them, not to mind the future.”

After crossing the border with Egypt in a United Nations convoy senior Hamas figure and spokesman Ghazi Hamad was spotted, but the ministerial party had been instructed not to leave the cars.

Mr Martin toured a food distribution centre in the border town of Rafah -operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency - followed by two local schools.

Mr Martin said the blockade's devastating impact was in evidence throughout the region. “The hundreds of thousands of people who are now in poverty, who have to queue up with their ration cards for food everyday at the food distribution centre; the impact of the blockade can clearly be seen,” he said.

While acknowledging Ireland was a small country he stressed that as a member of the EU its voice counted and pledged it would continue to speak out. “That’s a fundamental political thing we can do as a country and we will continue to do that.”

Irishman John Ging, UNRWA head, praised Mr Martin for having the “political courage” to visit the territory, but he said aid money pledged by international donors was not getting through. “It’s massively frustrating for everybody here when they know that 4.5 billion dollars were pledged.

“That’s 4.5 billion dollars to relieve 4.5 billion dollars’ of misery and not one dollar has actually come to Gaza for recovery and reconstruction,” he said.

Mr Martin is the first European Union foreign minister to visit Gaza in more than a year following Israel’s 34-day military offensive against Hamas militants which left some 1,400 people dead, including 300 children.

The Minister had been refused entry to the Palestinian territory by Israel late last year, but this morning he crossed into Gaza via Rafah in Egypt.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland programme today, Mr Martin said the purpose of his visit was to highlight the devastating impact the blockade was having on the ordinary citizens of Gaza. “The blockade is counterproductive to peace efforts as it is undermining the voices of moderation in the region,” he said.

Mr Martin said he was concerned that materials for the reconstruction of homes and the repairing of schools damaged during the Israeli offensive were not being allowed into the region. “There is crying need for this situation to end, to allow proper living standards return in terms of food supplies and the rebuilding of homes,” he said.

Mr Martin said he would not be meeting with officials from the Gazan government, which is controlled by Hamas.

The common EU position in relation to Hamas was that there would be no contacts until the organisation renounced violence and recognised the state of Israel, he said.

The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) welcomed Mr Martin’s visit, saying the EU needed to be more “vocal and active” in its opposition to what Israel was doing.

IPSC chairman Dr David Landy said: “The people of Gaza are suffering terribly as a result of the ongoing Israeli blockade and the infrastructure remains in tatters since the massive Israeli military assault last year.”

Additional reporting PA