A top U.S. senator and two other lawmakers visited the Gaza Strip on Thursday, the highest-profile visit by U.S. legislators to the Gaza Strip since before the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising against Israel occupation in 2000.
The visit follows a 22-day offensive which Israel launched attacks against the Gaza Strip. The bombardment killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, a third of them children in Decemcer 2008 on Gaza and wounded 5,300 Palestinians, and Gaza infrastructure suffered massive damage totaling at least 476 million dollars, according to Palestinian medics and officials.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, who ran a campaign for president in 2004, and two members of the House of Representatives, Brian Baird and Keith Ellison, entered the Gaza Strip separately.
Ellison is the first Muslim member of the US House of Representatives. He was elected in 2006.
The three Democrats planned to visit U.N. facilities and meet with aid groups, officials said.
Speaking to reporters in the southern Israeli border town of Sderot before entering the Gaza Strip, Kerry said U.S. policy on Hamas was "unchanged."
Last Mod: 20 Şubat 2009, 11:18
Speaking at the rubble of the American International School in Gaza, which was leveled by and Israeli airstrike in January, Kerry said "We are here to take the first hand the facts on the ground."
Checking the disastrous facts caused by Israeli
Palestinian news agency reported Ahmad Yousif, a former political advisor to Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh welcomed the visit saying, "This visit does not have political dimensions but rather purely humanitarian aiming at checking the disastrous facts caused by the Israeli war on Gaza."
"This visit is similar to previous visits of parliamentarians to the area," he added.
Yousif said that he would not oppose meeting with the Americans, although no meeting is scheduled. "We do not mind holding a meeting with him in case he wants to work of communicating the image to America on the vision of the movement [Hamas]."
Israel barred U.S. diplomats from entering the impoverished coastal enclave since 2003.
Former US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney attempted to travel to Gaza by sea in December, but the ship was rammed by an Israeli gunboat and diverted to Lebanon.
In 2008, former US President Jimmy Carter was denied permission to enter Gaza by the Israeli government. Carter did meet Hamas officials in Syria and Egypt.
The Kerry-led delegation was due to visit Syria at the weekend, U.S. officials said.