Martin urges Israel to lift Gaza blockade
FOREIGN Minister Micheal Martin yesterday pleaded with Israel to end the crippling blockade of Gaza on an historic trip to the occupied territory.
As he visited Gaza, Mr Martin said the blockade was choking ordinary people and helping to swell the ranks of the Islamic Hamas administration.
The minister 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," he said.
Mr Martin is the first EU foreign minister to enter the Gaza Strip in more than a year after repeated efforts by other states were refused by Israel, including an initial attempt by Ireland in December.
After crossing the border with Egypt in a United Nations convoy, 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.
One, complete with colourful murals on the walls and a basketball court on its grounds, was built decades ago.
The other -- in a refugee camp north of Rafah -- was constructed in September with containers as no building materials can get through the blockade, imposed in 2007 after Hamas seized control of the territory.
Mr Martin said its devastating impact was in evidence throughout the region.
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.