Yesterday, Irish Foreign Minister, Michael Martin, was finally able to visit Gaza after having been denied entry by Israeli officials via the Israeli border crossing at Beit Hanoun, which sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries. Mr. Martin eventually gained access to the strip through the Gaza's Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
Mr. Martin's visit is highly commendable and of great significance particularly given that no Arab ministers, including the Secretary General of the Arab League, has visited the region since the four-year siege began. Upon arrival, Mr. Martin confirmed in a brief interview that his visit was the first of its kind and that he had come to personally see what was going on in Gaza. "I am happy to be in Gaza today, I have come here on a humanitarian mission to observe the effects of destruction and siege, and to assure our position demands an end to the siege and closure" he said.
He met with officials from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which oversaw his visit taking him to see the most devastated areas. He met with students from schools affiliated to the Agency as well as several businessmen, housing projects and infrastructure facilities stalled and suffering as a result of the blockade and the effects of the recent war. He said: "Today I had the opportunity to meet people in the Gaza Strip and inspect the activities of UNRWA and its achievements which confirms that the resources, if there, would be a great success."
Mr. Martin said that his country would support UNRWA to the tune of U.S. $12 million and also called for sustained support for the IAEA to continue its humanitarian and relief mission, noting that it will carry a message to his European counterparts about what he saw of the suffering, destruction and difficulties in the sector.
During a press conference, Martin categorically denied the involvement of any Irish citizens in the assassination of Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in Dubai last month. He emphasised that the Irish passports used had been forged and also stated "The investigations are still ongoing, we do not want to anticipate the results of the investigations or to pass sentence early, but we express our strong objections to the use of forged Irish passports in this way."
The Palestinian Territories – Ireland's Foreign Minister MICHAEL MARTIN stands with the head of Gaza operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), JOHN GING during a press conference at the agency's headquarters in Gaza City.
MEMO Photographer: Mohammed Asad