Bishop Desmond Tutu, in Gaza today, spoke to survivors of the Beit Hanoun shelling, which killed 19 civilians, 8 of them kids, in their sleep. It was a long-postponed fact-finding mission for the Human Rights council in Geneva. Israeli authorities had denied the peace envoy and Nobel laureate entry to the Gaza strip in December 2006, so he entered through Rafah, the crossing controlled by Egypt. There had been fears that security concerns cited by the Israelis, who by treaty have a say in the operation of this border, would block his entry again. Had that occurred, peace advocates had suggested that the Bishop might resort to moving from Port Said, Egypt to Gaza City port in a flotilla or even a zippy Zodiac craft (which might have been legally thwarted by Israeli naval officers.)
Tutu said he had asked Ismail Haniya, prime minister of Gaza's Hamas government: "Can you stop the firing of rockets into Israel?"
Haniya was dismissed by Mahmud Abbas, the Palestinian president, last June when Hamas seized control of Gaza from forces loyal to Abbas."The incident we are meant to investigate was a violation of human rights in the fact that civilians were targeted," Tutu said.
"We have said to the prime minister [Haniya] that equally, what happens with rockets fired at Sderot is a violation."
Tutu was referring to the town in southern Israel that has borne the brunt of rocket and mortar fire by Gaza fighters.
He also condemned the blockade that Israelis say puts pressure on the Hamas authorities to end the attacks by their gunmen and rocket launchers.
"What is happening in Gaza is unacceptable. We have already seen and heard enough to move us to tears," Tutu said after his 40-minute meeting with Haniya.
Tutu, who was a prominent anti-apartheid activist when South Africa was still under white minority rule, said it was crucial that the two sides negotiate.
"That was our experience in South Africa. Peace came when former enemies sat down to talk," he said.
On Wednesday, the team was due to visit Beit Hanoun, where the 2006 killings occurred, to interview witnesses and survivors of the attack.
They will prepare a report to present to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The Israeli attack on Beit Hanoun on November 8, 2006, was widely condemned by the international community for killing 19 civilians, including five women and eight children, in their homes.
In February, the Israeli army announced that no charges would be brought against Israeli soldiers over the attack.
After conducting an internal investigation, Israel concluded that the shelling of the civilians' homes was "a rare and grave technical error of the artillery radar system".