Rassegna Stampa Elezioni Israeliane 2009

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Tony Blair makes first trip to Gaza Strip

Posted by claudiacampli su 2 marzo, 2009

Times

Tony Blair made his first visit to the Gaza Strip today, 18 months after being appointed the international community’s Middle East envoy and six weeks after Israel ended its devastating campaign against the Islamist-ruled enclave.

Mr Blair, whose British security advisers had cancelled a previous scheduled visit last year, met local community leaders at a UN school a few hundred metres from the Israeli border, avoiding areas that bore the brunt of the three-week Israeli invasion.

He made today’s visit en route to the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, where international donors are to meet tomorrow to pledge reconstruction funds for the Gaza Strip. About 1,300 Palestinians were killed and thousands more wounded in the brief war.

Israel launched its offensive to stop Hamas rockets being fired into its southern cities. Despite the ferocious air and ground offensive, and weeks of subsequent ceasefire talks, at least seven more rockets were fired from Gaza over the weekend, including one that damaged a school in the coastal city of Ashkelon.

“I wanted to come to hear for myself first hand from people in Gaza, whose lives have been so badly impacted by the recent conflict,” Mr Blair said. “These are the people who need to be the focus of all our efforts for peace and progress from now on.”

International aid agencies are warning that reconstruction efforts are being severely hampered by Israel’s restrictions on goods entering Gaza. Aid workers have criticised the restrictions as being applied randomly, citing the fact that rice is allowed in but not macaroni.

“The people of Gaza have been restricted to survival rations for now over 20 months,” Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said. “Restrictions on food types, clothing and school books are keeping innocent children underfed, cold and uneducated. Hospitals, schools and thousands of homes need to be rebuilt. We cannot talk seriously about rebuilding Gaza without the opening of all crossings.”

That message was relayed bluntly to Mr Blair by John Ging, the head of the UN refugee agency in Gaza. “Focus on the people, not the politics, and get the crossings open. It’s as simple as that,” he said, adding that he hoped that visits by Mr Blair and John Kerry, the US Senator who ran against George W. Bush for the presidency in 2004, would convince world leaders to abandon their “failed policies” of blockading the tiny coastal enclave, where 1.5 million Palestinian live.

Other aid workers were sceptical that sufficient pressure could be exerted to end the crippling blockade, even with such big-hitters as Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, at the conference in Egypt.

“It’s taken two US presidential candidates just to raise the issue of macaroni,” said one senior aid official. “It really draws attention to the uphill struggle we face.”

Mr Blair’s brief visit coincided with a trip to Gaza by Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary and the first British minister to visit Gaza since Hamas drove out Fatah, its secular rival, in heavy fighting in June 2007.

“There is a desperate need for tough restrictions on supply of goods to be relaxed,” Mr Alexander said, pointing to the “continued suffering” of the people of Gaza. “Gaza needs money, fuel and construction materials, and whilst these goods are turned away at the borders, repairs to homes, water systems and the electricity network will remain impossible,” he said.

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