The highest-ranking U.S. delegation to visit the Gaza Strip in years toured bomb-damaged buildings on Thursday and blamed Hamas rulers for provoking Israel's wrath with cross-border rocket attacks. According to Reuters, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry and two members of the House of Representatives, Brian Baird and Keith Ellison, shunned Hamas during their tours.
It was the highest-level visit by U.S. legislators to the Gaza Strip since a Palestinian uprising against Israel erupted in 2000, U.S. officials in the region said. Kerry earlier toured the Israeli border town of Sderot.
Kerry visited the bombed-out American School in the northern Gaza Strip and asked administrators whether Israel was letting in enough supplies for the Gaza Strip's 1.5 million residents.
"I know President Obama is committed to trying to resolve some very, very difficult issues," said Kerry, escorted by U.N. security personnel during his brief tour of the school.
On his part, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum described Kerry's visit as a "step in the right direction to end the isolation of the Gaza Strip" but described his words about Hamas as "unfair to the democratic choice of the Palestinian people".
The United States and the European Union boycott Hamas. However, on Thursday the London-based Independent newspaper quoted Hamas officials and European diplomats as saying that legislators from parliaments in Britain, France, Sweden, the Netherlands and three other western European nations have met in recent weeks with Hamas officials in Syria and Lebanon.
Such visits do not necessarily violate a diplomatic ban on dealings with the terrorist group; the lawmakers are not representing their governments, the Independent said.