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Martin in plea to end blockade on Gaza trip

Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin pleaded with Israel today to end the crippling blockade of Gaza and vowed Ireland would continue to speak out over the crisis.

In his historic first trip to the occupied territory, Mr Martin said the blockade was choking 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."

Mr Martin is the first EU foreign minister to enter the Gaza strip in over a year after repeated efforts by other states were refused by Israel, including an initial attempt by Ireland in December.

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

Scores of businesses were destroyed in the 22-day Israeli onslaught in 2008 and with the blockade banning basic items they say the economy has been crippled.

Mr Martin said the blockade was driving people into the arms of the Islamic group as it had "created an informal black economy which has led to the development of Hamas and is strengthening Hamas".