US Congressmen Visit Aid Projects, Ruins in Gaza
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Two U.S. congressmen made a rare visit to
the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, meeting with aid workers and touring scenes
of destruction left by Israel's military offensive.
Inglis and Stephen F. Lynch pointedly avoided contact with the Hamas
militant group, which rules Gaza and which the United States, European
Union and Israel consider a terrorist organization.
Lynch, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said the world must find a way to address a "legitimate humanitarian crisis" in Gaza.
need to act with some urgency here. There is a humanitarian crisis
going on and we can't dawdle," Lynch told the Associated Press.
launched the three-week offensive in December with the aim of ending
rocket fire on southern Israel by Hamas militants. Palestinian human
rights groups say more than 1,400 people were killed, including more
than 900 civilians. Thousands of buildings and much of Gaza's
infrastructure were destroyed or damaged.
Israel says the death toll was lower, and most of those killed were Hamas militants.
said he and Inglis, a Republican from South Carolina, visited a project
run by Catholic Relief Services in a heavily damaged neighborhood and a
tent camp where displaced Gazans have been living since the war ended
on Jan. 18. They also visited the grounds of the American International
School of Gaza, a U.S.-style school the Israeli army flattened during
the offensive, saying militants launched rockets from its grounds.
Lynch said the destruction in Gaza was worse than he expected.
Hamas violently seized the territory from forces loyal to Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007, Israel and Egypt have maintained
tight border control. Restrictions on cement and other building
materials _ which Israel says could benefit Hamas _ have greatly
hampered the reconstruction effort.
"It is problematic having the checkpoints closed," Lynch said.
said aid could be brought into Gaza through the U.N. and other
organizations, and that safeguards could be put in place to make sure
resources were used properly. But the U.S. will not work with Hamas
until it changed its policy toward Israel and rejected violence, he
Tuesday's visit followed a similar tour earlier this year
by Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, and two Democratic
congressmen, Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Brian Baird of Washington.