UN chief visits Gaza; Hamas demands lifting of Israeli-Egyptian blockade

A military wing of Hamas during a rally at a refugee camp in Gaza Strip. (Source: AP) Related News

Gaza’s Islamic Hamas rulers welcomed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to the isolated
territory on Wednesday by demanding he work to lift the Israeli- Egyptian blockade of the strip and save it from a humanitarian crisis.

In a statement issued upon Guterres’ arrival, Hamas also demanded he approve relief and development programs and pressure Israel about the Palestinian prisoners it holds.

Guterres is on his first visit to the region since taking office at the beginning of the year. His meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders are aimed at encouraging the resumption of peace talks.

Prior to arriving in Gaza, he took a helicopter tour of the Israel-Gaza border with Israeli officials, visited a tunnel Hamas dug into Israel to carry out attacks and met local residents living along the volatile front.

Guterres was accompanied by Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, and Aviv Kochavi, Israel’s deputy military chief. Danon warned Guterres that Gaza’s Hamas rulers have been exploiting international humanitarian aid to dig the tunnels aimed at harming Israel.

“Instead of working to ensure a better future for their children, Hamas has turned the residents of Gaza into hostages,” he said.

“At the same time, the Israeli residents of the border communities have stood strong in the face of terror threats, as they build prosperous communities and help further develop the region for the betterment of the next generation.”

Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, has ruled Gaza with an iron fist since seizing control of the coastal area in 2007.

It has since fought three wars with Israel, firing thousands of rockets into its territory and digging a network of elaborate offensive tunnels. Hamas has largely observed a truce with Israel since the last battle, in 2014, though more radical groups in the territory have carried out occasional attacks.

Egypt and Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Hamas takeover that has crippled the local economy. In recent years, Egypt has also cracked down on the once-vibrant tunnel trade along the border. Israel began construction of an underground anti-tunnel barrier along the border last year.

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