GAZA CITY, (AFP) – A delegation from the Elders group of retired prominent world figures was in the Gaza Strip on Saturday to press for the easing of Israeli restrictions on the Hamas-ruled enclave.
Former Irish president and UN high commissioner for human rights Mary Robinson, Indian women’s rights campaigner Ela Bhatt and former Algerian foreign minister and UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi entered Gaza from Egypt through the Rafah border crossing, an AFP correspondent said.
“The aim of their visit is to draw attention to the ongoing impact of the Gaza?s isolation and to call for the immediate lifting of the blockade,” the Elders said in a statement.
The delegation was to meet officials of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), local authorities, businessmen and human rights activists.
Israel and Egypt imposed closures on Gaza after Palestinian militants seized an Israeli soldier in a deadly cross-border raid in June 2006.
They tightened them the following year when Hamas seized power from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Israel began to ease its restrictions earlier this year, allowing in all purely civilian goods, in the face of international outcry over a May 31 commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in which nine Turkish activists were killed.
UNRWA provides humanitarian assistance, education and health services to some two-thirds of Gaza’s population of 1.5 million.
Ahead of their visit, the Elders met Arab League chief Amr Mussa in Cairo on Friday evening as they began their Middle East tour.
The delegation, which is to be joined by former US president Jimmy Carter in Cairo on Sunday, is also to visit Syria, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank.
“The aim of their visit is to encourage support across the region for the current final status negotiations,” an Elders statement said.
Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians which resumed in Washington last month have run into the ground over Israel’s refusal to renew restrictions on Jewish settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.