GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip, (AP) – The leader of Irish Republican Army-linked Sinn Fein party met with the head of the internationally shunned Hamas government during a two-day visit to Gaza and said he plans to brief President Obama’s special Mideast envoy about his contacts.
Gerry Adams, a key player in Northern Ireland’s peace process, met with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh late Wednesday and planned more talks with officials of the Islamic militant group Thursday.
Haniyeh’s meeting with Adams, at an undisclosed location in Gaza City, was not announced ahead of time. TV footage from a local news outlet showed Adams sitting in an armchair next to Haniyeh
“We want to help. We support the Palestinian people,” Adams said.
Adams told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday he said he met Obama’s special Mideast envoy George Mitchell in Washington last month and told him of his plan to visit Gaza. He said he plans to “brief the Irish government, friends in the U.S., others I deal with internationally, and that would include Sen. Mitchell.”
Mitchell did not meet with Hamas officials during a visit to the region several months ago. Mitchell and Adams have known each other since the former U.S. senator helped broker a Northern Ireland peace deal in the 1990s.
Sinn Fein is a political party linked to the Irish Republican Army — a group that, like Hamas, was labeled terrorist because of violent tactics used to battle Britain. But unlike Hamas, Sinn Fein engaged in negotiations that transformed it into a legitimate political player, recognized by Britain and local foes.
Haniyeh welcomed Adams as “a man of rich political experience who faced circumstances in Ireland similar to what we face in Gaza.”
Hamas, which seized control of Gaza by force in 2007, is widely shunned by the West. Some European politicians have called for dialogue with Hamas, but few Western politicians have met with Hamas officials. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.
The United States has said it will not deal with Hamas until it recognizes Israel, renounces violence and accepts previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority — which Hamas has refused to do.
Adams called on all sides to the conflict to renounce violence and called for dialogue between all parties.
A willingness to talk and compromise produced success in the case of Northern Ireland. Following the IRA’s cease-fire in 1997, Sinn Fein joined in negotiations with other parties and the British and Irish governments, and is now the second-largest political party in Northern Ireland.
Adams also visited the Israeli town of Sderot — a frequent target of Hamas rockets — before traveling to Gaza and said he found it “deeply saddening” to realize “the depth of the human tragedy” on both sides.
He also said Gaza’s border crossings — kept tightly closed by Israel and Egypt since the Hamas takeover — should be opened.