GAZA CITY (AFP) – Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter on Tuesday met Hamas leader Ismail Haniya in the Gaza Strip, where he called for a lifting of Israel’s merciless blockade, saying Palestinians are being treated “like animals.”
Following the talks, Carter called for an end of “all violence” against the Palestinians.
“This is holy land for us all and my hope is that we can have peace… all of us are children of Abraham,” he said at a joint news conference with Haniya, prime minister of the Hamas government in the Palestinian enclave.
Earlier Carter denounced the brutal Israeli blockade and the destruction wrought by its 22-day military offensive against Gaza in December and January.
“My primary feeling today is one of grief and despair and an element of anger when I see the destruction perpetrated against innocent people,” Carter said as he toured the impoverished territory.
“Tragically, the international community too often ignores the cries for help and the citizens of Palestine are treated more like animals than like human beings,” he said.
“The starving of 1.5 million human beings of the necessities of life — never before in history has a large community like this been savaged by bombs and missiles and then denied the means to repair itself,” Carter said at a UN school graduation ceremony in Gaza City.
The United States and Europe “must try to do all that is necessary to convince Israel and Egypt to allow basic goods into Gaza,” he said.
“At same time, there must be no more rockets” from Gaza into Israel, said Carter, who brokered the historic 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
“I have to hold back tears when I see the deliberate destruction that has been wracked against your people,” he said at a destroyed American school, saying it was “deliberately destroyed by bombs from F16s made in my country.”
Israel’s offensive killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and left large swathes of the coastal strip sandwiched between Israel and Egypt in ruins. Thirteen Israelis also died in the conflict.
“I feel partially responsible for this as must all Americans and Israelis,” Carter said.
Israel has insisted that the Gaza blockade, which bars all but essential humanitarian supplies from entering the enclave, is necessary to prevent Hamas from arming, but human rights groups have slammed it as collective punishment.
Shortly after entering Gaza, Carter’s convoy of white UN 4×4 vehicles stopped briefly in the area of Ezbet Abed Rabbo, one of the most ravaged during the Israeli onslaught at the turn of the year.
The massive destruction in the area has made it a regular stop for the succession of foreign dignitaries who have come to Gaza since the war.
As Carter briefly emerged from his vehicle to look at the damage, one resident ran up, yelling that he wanted to talk to the former U.S. leader, and getting into a brief shoving match with bodyguards.
“They all come here and look at us like we’re animals and then they go home,” said Majid Athamna. “We’re not animals, we’re human beings.”
“If he wants to come and visit us, he has to listen to us.”
Photo: Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, center, gestures as he speaks to the media at the ruins of the American International School, which was destroyed during Israel’s offensive in Gaza earlier this year, in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, June 16, 2009. (AP/Khalil Hamra) source