Members of the International Council of Elders began a 24 hour visit to the Gaza Strip on 16 October; the delegation was led by the former President of the Republic of Ireland, Mary Robinson. In a statement, Mrs. Robinson said that the international community should not exclude Hamas from the peace process, "because the movement actually controls the Gaza Strip and they were elected."
Speaking at a press conference in Gaza City, Mrs. Robinson explained that it was for this reason that the delegation had decided to meet with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. She said that she heard "encouraging news" from Mr. Haniyeh about Palestinian reconciliation, adding that during her presidency she had been criticized for meeting with Sinn Féin chairman Gerry Adams, "but finally peace was achieved in the country".
According to veteran UN envoy and former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi, "The aim of the visit is to show complete solidarity with the Palestinian people, particularly those under siege in Gaza, and the need to exercise all their rights, including freedom and independence." He added, "It is a shame on the international community that it accepts the continuation of this siege and tyranny, especially after the latest offensive."
Commenting on the devastation caused by Israel's winter assault last year, Mrs. Robinson said, "It is unbelievable after the destructive war on Gaza that people and international organizations are unable to carry out reconstruction, and that UN schools fail to house 40,000 students because the UNRWA isn't able to rebuild damaged schools."
Former US President Jimmy Carter will join the Elders' delegation in Cairo on Sunday before heading to Damascus and Amman to meet with Hamas leaders.
MEMO Photographer: Mohammed Asad