The former US president Jimmy Carter entered the Hamas-run Gaza Strip today, after urging Israel to lift a blockade on the Palestinian enclave and stop treating its residents like "savages". Mr Carter was due to tour areas damaged by Israel's 22-day war against the Hamas rulers of the impoverished territory earlier this year. The war killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, 13 Israelis and left large swathes of the enclave in ruins.
He was also due to speak at the headquarters of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA). Rebuilding has been stalled by the blockade that Israel had slapped on Gaza in June 2007 after Hamas, a group pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state, violently seized power in the territory. Since then Israel and Egypt, which controls Gaza's only border crossing that bypasses the Jewish state, have kept the impoverished territory of 1.5 million aid-dependent people sealed to all but essential humanitarian supplies.
Israel has insisted that the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas from arming itself, but human rights groups have slammed it as collective punishment of a territory where the majority of the population depends on foreign aid. "To me, the most grievous circumstance is the maltreatment of the people in Gaza, who are literally starving and have no hope at this time," Mr Carter told the Haaretz newspaper.
"They're being treated like savages. The alleviation of their plight to some means I think would be the most important (thing) the Israeli PM could do." * AFP