BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza’s Islamic Hamas rulers welcomed U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to the isolated territory Wednesday by demanding he work to lift the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the strip and save it from a humanitarian crisis.
In a statement issued upon Guterres’ arrival, Hamas also demanded he approve relief and development programs and pressure Israel about the Palestinian prisoners it holds.
Guterres is on his first visit to the region since taking office at the beginning of the year. His meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders are aimed at encouraging the resumption of peace talks.
Prior to arriving in Gaza, he took a helicopter tour of the Israel-Gaza border with Israeli officials, visited a tunnel Hamas dug into Israel to carry out attacks and met local residents living along the volatile front.
Guterres was accompanied by Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, and Aviv Kochavi, Israel’s deputy military chief. Danon warned Guterres that Gaza’s Hamas rulers have been exploiting international humanitarian aid to dig the tunnels aimed at harming Israel.
Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, has ruled Gaza with an iron fist since seizing control of the coastal area in 2007. It has since fought three wars with Israel, firing thousands of rockets into its territory and digging a network of elaborate offensive tunnels. Hamas has largely observed a truce with Israel since the last battle, in 2014, though more radical groups in the territory have carried out occasional attacks.
Egypt and Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Hamas takeover that has crippled the local economy. In recent years, Egypt has also cracked down on the once-vibrant tunnel trade along the border. Israel began construction of an underground anti-tunnel barrier along the border last year.