Carter blasts Israel

2009-06-16 21:15

Gaza City - Former US president Jimmy Carter on Tuesday met Hamas leader Ismail Haniya in the Gaza Strip, where he called for a lifting of Israel's blockade, saying Palestinians are being treated "like animals".

Following the talks, Carter called for an end of "all violence" against both Israelis and 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.

Haniya in turn said Hamas supported the creation of a Palestinian state in the territories Israel has occupied since the 1967 Six-Day war.

While Hamas has made similar statements in the past, it has more often insisted that the future state should encompass not only the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but also all of Israel.

Rare praise

"If there is a real plan to resolve the Palestinian question on the basis of the creation of a Palestinian state within the borders of June 4 1967 and with full sovereignty, we are in favour of it," Haniya said.

He also praised US President Barack Obama's June 4 speech in Cairo to the Muslim world. "We saw a new tone, a new language and a new spirit in the official US rhetoric," he said.

Such praise is rare coming from Hamas, a group pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state and which is listed as a terrorist group by the United States, Israel and the European Union.

The Islamist movement violently seized power in Gaza two years ago, ousting forces loyal to the secular and Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Carter was expected to pass on a letter from the parents of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier seized by Gaza militants including Hamas in a cross-border raid almost three years ago, and who remains in captivity.

Earlier Carter denounced the 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.

Hold back tears

"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.