GAZA CITY — Former President Jimmy Carter denounced the deprivations facing Palestinians in Gaza as unique in history, asserting that they are being treated "like animals."
"Tragically, the international community too often ignores the cries for help and the citizens of Palestine are treated more like animals than like human beings," he said Tuesday as he toured the war-torn, blockaded Gaza Strip.
"The starving of 1.5 million human beings of the necessities of life — never before in history has a large community like this been savaged by bombs and missiles and then denied the means to repair itself," Carter said at a U.N. school graduation ceremony in Gaza City.
He was referring to the blockade that Israel and Egypt have maintained on Gaza since June 2007, when Hamas, a group pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state, violently seized power in the territory.
The United States and Europe "must try to do all that is necessary to convince Israel and Egypt to allow basic goods into Gaza," he said. "At same time, there must be no more rockets" from Gaza into Israel.
"Palestinian statehood cannot come at the expense of Israel's security, just as Israel's security cannot come at the expense of Palestinian statehood."
Carter, who brokered the historic 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, called earlier for a halt to all violence around the territory where the Jewish state waged a deadly 22-day war in December-January in response to rocket fire.
The offensive killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis and left large swathes of the coastal strip sandwiched between Israel and Egypt in ruins.
"I have to hold back tears when I see the deliberate destruction that has been wracked against your people," he said earlier at a destroyed American school, decrying the fact that the school was "deliberately destroyed by bombs from F16s made in my country."
"I feel partially responsible for this as must all Americans and Israelis."
Carter also is to meet Ismail Haniya, prime minister of the Islamist Hamas movement that runs the territory and Israel and the West consider a terrorist organization.
He is expected to pass on a letter from the parents of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier that Gaza militants including Hamas seized in a cross-border raid almost three years ago, and who remains in captivity.
Israel has insisted that the Gaza blockade, which bars all but essential humanitarian supplies from entering, is necessary to prevent Hamas from arming, but human rights groups have slammed it as collective punishment.
In an interview with an Israeli daily published earlier in the week, Carter urged Israel to lift its blockade and stop treating the 1.5 million aid-dependent residents of the Palestinian territory like "savages."
Shortly after entering Gaza, Carter's convoy of white UN 4x4 vehicles stopped briefly in the area of Ezbet Abed Rabbo, one of the most ravaged during Israel's war in the territory in December and January.
The massive destruction in the area has made it a regular stop for the succession of foreign dignitaries who have come to Gaza since the war.
As Carter briefly got out of his vehicle to take a look at the damage, one resident ran up, yelling he wanted to talk to the former US leader, and getting into a brief shoving match with bodyguards.
"They all come here and look at us like we're animals and then they go home," said Majid Athamna. "We're not animals, we're human beings."
"If he wants to come and visit us, he has to listen to us."
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