Former US president Jimmy Carter said he had to "hold back tears" while touring scenes of devastation in the war-torn Gaza strip on Tuesday, June 16, and seeing Palestinians treated more “like animals" under the Israeli stifling siege.
"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," Cater said as he toured the blockaded enclave, reported Agence France Presse (AFP).
Cater, who arrived in Gaza early in the morning coming from Israel and the West Bank, denounced the two-year Israeli siege of the Hamas-ruled strip for starving and deliberately depriving Palestinians from the necessities of life.
Israel has been closing Gaza’s six crossings since Hamas took over control in 2007, leaving its 1.6 million population without food, water, power and sewage services.
Carter was also “distressed” to observe the destruction inflicted upon Gaza during the 22-day assault Israel unleashed last December.
"I have to hold back tears when I see the deliberate destruction that has been wracked against your people," Carter said as he stood at the ruins of the American School in Gaza, damaged in the offensive.
Carter decried the fact that the school was "deliberately destroyed” by bombs from F16s made back in the United States.
"I feel partially responsible for this as must all Americans and Israelis,” the veteran politician said.
“It’s very distressing to me."
More than 1,350 Gazans, including 437 children, were killed and 5,450 wounded in three weeks of air, sea and land attacks.
The deadly onslaught left a trail of destruction with figures showing that 21,100 homes, 1,500 factories, 25 mosques, 31 government buildings and scores of schools were damaged by the Israeli war machine.
Following his tour in the ravaged enclave, Carter held groundbreaking talks with Hamas leadership.
"This is holy land for us all and my hope is that we can have peace,” he said at a joint news conference with Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas government in the Palestinian enclave.
Carter is the one of the most senior western figures to meet the Hamas leadership in Gaza in recent years.
The winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace prize and the architect of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty has long advocated engagement with the Hamas movement as crucial for progress on peace.
He has braved US and Israeli critics last year to hold a meeting with two Hamas officials in Cairo.
Last month in Damascus he met Khaled Meshal, head of Hamas political bureau.
Carter was expected to pass on to Hamas officials a letter to Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was taken prisoner by Palestinian resistance groups in 2006.
He accepted the letter from the soldier’s parents Friday during his meeting with Israeli government officials, and promised to deliver it to Hamas, Israel’s daily Maariv reported.
Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar told Israel Radio Tuesday that the movement would pass on the letter to Shalit.
Zahar, however, refused to say whether they would give Carter a letter from Shalit, adding that if Israel is interested in ending the file of Shalit, then it should go ahead with the prisoner-swap deal to free him.
Corporal Shalit was taken prisoner by three Palestinian resistance groups in a daring operation that killed two other soldiers.
The groups want to trade him for some of the nearly 11,000 Palestinian detainees, including women and minors, in Israeli jails.
Hamas has always maintained that the release of Shalit be negotiated as part of a separate prisoner exchange involving hundreds of people held in Israeli jails.
However, the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected Hamas demands to free 450 long-term prisoners in exchange for the Israeli corporal.
(IslamOnline.net and Agencies)