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Gaza siege must be "broken": Arab League chief

Arab League chief in groundbreaking Gaza visit

Arab League chief Amr Moussa said during his first-ever visit to the Gaza Strip on Sunday that a four-year siege on the Hamas-run territory must be "broken."

"This blockade which we are all here to confront must be broken and the position of the Arab League is clear," Moussa said after Palestinian officials from several factions welcomed him at the Rafah border with Egypt.

"Not only the Arabs, but the entire world should stand with the Palestinian people against the siege of Gaza and what is happening in the occupied territories, especially east Jerusalem," he said.

First Arab League visit

Moussa's visit came just two weeks after Israel commandos staged a botched raid on a fleet of international aid ships seeking to run the blockade, which left nine Turkish activists dead and scores injured.

It was the first time a secretary general of the 22-member pan-Arab organization had visited the besieged coastal Strip, which was taken over by Hamas in June 2007 after the radical Islamist movement ousted the secular Fatah faction of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

The 10-hour visit, announced shortly after the deadly flotilla raid, was aimed at "showing solidarity with the Palestinian people" in the face of the blockade and to urge greater efforts to reconcile deeply divided Palestinian factions, top aide Hisham Yussef told AFP last week.

Speaking to journalists at the crossing, Moussa reiterated calls for Hamas and Fatah to resolve their differences.

"Reconciliation is the basic and principle question. It is a question of will and not a mere signature -- it's a will, it's a policy, it's a position that translates into an agreement on all issues," he said.

"History does not halt before a sentence here or a paragraph there."

Not only the Arabs, but the entire world should stand with the Palestinian people against the siege of Gaza and what is happening in the occupied territories, especially east Jerusalem

Arab League chief Amr Moussa

Busy agenda

During the visit, Moussa was expected to hold talks with Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya as well as other faction heads, the United Nations, local business leaders and non-governmental organizations.

He was also expected to meet with families who were bereaved during Israel's devastating 22-day war on the tiny coastal strip, which began at the end of 2008 and left some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead as the Jewish state sought to halt militant rocket attacks.

Gaza's 1.5 million inhabitants have been hit by a crippling Israeli blockade imposed on the territory in June 2006 after militants captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a deadly cross-border raid.

The blockade was later tightened a year later after Hamas seized control of the enclave.

Two weeks ago, a six-ship flotilla carrying 10,000 tons of aid tried to run the blockade and reach Gaza, but was stormed by Israeli navy seals in an operation which left nine dead and scores injured, among them seven Israeli troops.

The raid provoked a backlash of anger against Israel, which is now under increasing pressure to lift its naval blockade of the territory.

International fury over the blockade also had a galvanizing effect on Cairo, which quickly moved to reopen the Rafah crossing just days after the raid, allowing travelers and humanitarian aid to pass, but not any commercial goods.

Israel has said the closure is necessary to prevent Hamas from importing weapons and insists the humanitarian needs of Gaza's people are met by the dozens of truckloads of basic goods it allows in most days.

This blockade which we are all here to confront must be broken and the position of the Arab League is clear

Moussa