By Donald Macintyre

Friday, 30 May 2008

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has denounced the international community for its “silence and complicity” on what he called Israel’s “abominable” 11-month blockade of Gaza.

The South African Nobel Laureate, who ended a three-day visit to Gaza yesterday, strongly condemned the blockade imposed after Hamas’s enforced takeover of the Strip last June that has reduced electricity, severely cut fuel supplies and brought industry to a halt.

The Archbishop, mainly here on a UN mission to investigate what he called the Beit Hanoun massacre of 21 civilians by Israeli tank shelling 18 months ago, said:

“All we had heard about conditions in Gaza – deprivation, a sense of despair, the lack of economic activity – had not prepared us for the stark reality which we saw.”

He added: “The entire situation is abominable. I believe the ordinary Israeli citizens would not support this blockade if they knew what it really meant to ordinary people like themselves… My message to the international community is that our silence and complicity, especially on the situation in Gaza, shames us all. It is almost like the behaviour of the military junta in Burma.”

He said that he had urged Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza’s de facto Hamas prime minister, at a meeting to stop the firing of rockets into Israel, which he said were also a “gross violation of human rights”.

And he said he would have liked to talk to victims of the rocket attacks in the Israeli border town of Sderot. The UN mission has been refused visas to enter Israel.

But he said that events in both South Africa and Northern Ireland had shown that peace would come through negotiations “not with your friends. Peace can only come when enemies sit down and talk”.

Yesterday, less than 24 hours after the Archbishop’s visit to Beit Hanoun, 60 Palestinians were arrested during a pre-dawn raid by the Israeli military on the northern Gaza town. Palestinian witnesses said that residents had been summoned to a local square before dozens were taken away for questioning, and that armed military bulldozers had destroyed some farmland in the area.

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