June 14, 2010 in Nation/World

Top Arab diplomat visits Gaza Strip

Israel says panel will investigate flotilla raid
Ibrahim Barzak Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Amr Moussa, left, arrives in Gaza on Sunday.
(Full-size photo)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The Arab world’s top diplomat declared support Sunday for the people of blockaded Gaza in his first visit to the Palestinian territory since Hamas violently seized control of it three years ago.

Amr Moussa, the head of the 22-member Arab League, met Sunday with the top Hamas leader in Gaza, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, in a significant diplomatic boost for Hamas. The meeting took place in Haniyeh’s home in Gaza’s Shati refugee camp, and the men later walked around the neighborhood for 10 minutes.

Moussa’s visit to Gaza is part of an international push to end the 3-year-old blockade that gained momentum after the naval raid.

“The siege must be lifted,” Moussa told reporters. “All the world is now standing with the people of Palestine and the people of Gaza.”

It was a significant declaration because many Arab countries have held the Iranian-backed Hamas at arms length, and Egypt, one of the Arab League’s most important members, has been Israel’s partner in keeping Gaza largely sealed.

The visit was the latest sign that Israel’s deadly raid on a flotilla trying to break the blockade of Gaza has eased the diplomatic isolation of the Islamic militant group.

Israel, meanwhile, appeared to grow more isolated in the fallout over the May 31 raid as Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak abruptly canceled plans Sunday to visit Paris.

Barak’s office said he canceled his trip while Israel forms a committee to investigate the raid, and denied that the decision was connected to attempts by pro-Palestinian groups to seek his arrest.

Israel said late Sunday it was setting up an inquiry headed by a judge, to be joined by two high-ranking foreign observers.

The government statement said the Israeli Cabinet would be asked to approve the “special independent public commission” today. The chairman is to be Yaakov Turkel, a retired Israeli Supreme Court justice, the statement said. The two foreign observers are to be Lord William David Trimble of Ireland, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and retired Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin, the former chief military prosecutor in Canada.

The White House said it backs Israel’s inquiry into the deadly raid, saying the independent public commission is “an important step forward.”

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