GAZA CITY: Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Thursday said he was shocked by conditions in the Gaza Strip after months of Israeli sanctions.
The South African Nobel peace laureate said the coastal strip has become “desolate and scary as a result of shortages of fuel and other basic goods.
“No people were in the streets. We were struck particularly by the absence of the sound of children playing or waving to [my] motorcade, like other countries, he said at a news conference, urging Israel to lift the blockade.
He denounced what he called the international community’s silence and complicity over the situation in the besieged Gaza Strip.
“My message to the international community is that our silence and complicity, especially on the situation in Gaza, shames us all, Tutu said at the end of a three-day UN fact-finding mission to the impoverished Palestinian territory.
“Gaza needs the engagement of the outside world, especially its peacemakers, the Anglican archbishop said at a news conference.
The overcrowded sliver of land is strangled by a tight blockade and faced with almost daily military raids which Israel says are aimed at forcing militants to halt rocket and mortar attacks.
“I think what we’ve seen shows plenty of evidence of at least the possibility of war crimes that needs much further independent investigation, said British professor Christine Chinkin, who traveled to Gaza with Tutu.
“I would certainly say the concept of collective punishment in a situation of occupation constitutes the notion of war crimes and possibly of a crime against humanity, she said in reference to the Israeli-imposed embargo.
Tutu and Chinkin were in Gaza on a UN fact-finding mission into the killing of 19 Palestinian civilians in a 2006 Israeli artillery attack on Beit Hanoun.
Following an internal investigation, Israel concluded that shelling the civilians’ homes was “a rare and grave technical error of the artillery radar system, and announced in February that no charges would be brought against Israeli forces involved in the incident.
During the visit, Tutu also urged a senior Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday to end rocket attacks against Israel.
He told journalists he asked dismissed Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya: “Can you stop the firing of rockets into Israel?
Tutu, who was a prominent anti-apartheid activist when South Africa was still under white minority rule, also urged both sides in the Gaza conflict to sit down and negotiate.
Israel refuses to talk directly to Hamas because it blacklists the Islamist group as a terrorist organization, but Egypt has been mediating between the two in a bid to achieve a truce in and around the Gaza Strip.
Tutu said Israel did not allow him to enter the country during his trip.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said Tutu is welcome in the country, but that Israel will not cooperate with the UN investigation, claiming the body overseeing the probe, UN Human Rights Council, is biased against Israel. The council has been criticized for its heavy emphasis on criticizing Israel and the presence of human-rights violators, including Pakistan and Gabon, among its members.
Egypt, which has sealed its border with Gaza since the Hamas takeover, opened the crossing to allow Tutu to enter the Palestinian area. -Agencies