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Swiss observer "appalled" by conditions in Gaza

(Keystone)

A group of 11 European members of parliament, including one Swiss representative, has returned from a fact-finding mission to Gaza in defiance of Israel's blockade.

The politicians sailed to Gaza from Cyprus on a yacht organised by US-based Free Gaza activist group to deliver medical supplies.

Speaking from Cyprus on his return, Communist Party parliamentarian Joseph Zisyadis described the living conditions of the population as appalling.

Gaza's population of 1.4 million has been virtually cut off from the world since the Islamic militant Hamas took power in the territory in June 2007.

This week's voyage was the third from the Mediterranean island completed by the activist group since August, defying Israeli navy patrols waters off the coastal strip. The yacht carried one tonne of medical supplies and three medical scanners for spinal injuries.

The parliamentarians said they were not seeking to legitimize Hamas's rule of Gaza. Rather, they want to highlight the problems being suffered by ordinary people.

The delegation received a warm welcome in Gaza. Zisyadis said their visit was regarded as a "breath of air". They were able to meet representatives of civil society and activists. "We cannot say that we were prevented from doing what we wanted," he said.

"Shocked"

Zisyadis told swissinfo that action must be taken quickly to help the people of Gaza who are living in extreme difficulty.

He told swissinfo he was particularly shocked by the situation of the children who do not get enough to eat.

"The other thing that really shocked me were the famous tunnels near the Egyptian border. There are tunnels 30 metres deep dug by children and men to be able to get out at the other side to bring back goods and medication."

He also observed medical shortages in terms of materials and hospital beds, confirming reports by international aid agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, which have previously said virtually no medical supplies are reaching Gaza.

The ICRC has blamed that on a lack of cooperation between Palestinian authorities in the West Bank, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction holds sway, and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

Zisyadis told swissinfo that Gaza was in effect facing a threefold blockade, not only the one imposed by Israel.

"We saw that the border with Egypt is closed so one can also speak of an Egyptian blockade... On top of that, humanitarian aid is blocked at Ramallah, effectively an inter-Palestinian blockade."

"All that weighs on the daily life of the population regardless of their political opinion and it is unacceptable from a humanitarian point of view," he said.

Switzerland and Gaza

The Swiss contribution in the territory is much appreciated, according to Zisyadis.

"The people of Gaza like Switzerland very much, partly because it has kept up its cooperation programmes, unlike other European countries who have stopped them or kept them running only in Ramallah."

The Swiss politician was asked to arrange twinning and partnerships between hospitals in Gaza and Switzerland. Hospitals in the territory need drugs and other medical supplies, as well as repairs and spare parts for equipment.

But the message Zisyadis wanted to carry back was a stark one.

"This region of the world is densely populated and there could be a terribly crisis if we don't take steps very soon," he said.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Zisyadis and ten other members of parliament from Britain, Ireland, and Italy sailed to Gaza on November 8 from Cyprus on a yacht organised by the US-based Free Gaza activist group.

In doing so the group defied an Israeli blockade but Israel's navy did not block the vessel, Dignity, from making its third run to Gaza since August.

The yacht returned to Cyprus on Tuesday after the activists delivered one ton of medicine and hospital equipment.

The group included Lord Nazir Ahmed, a Muslim member of Britain's House of Lords and Clare Short, a former member of the British Cabinet.

Organisers of the boat shuttle said more activists would travel to Gaza in mid-December, and a boat of European musicians would travel there in January.

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