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US Congressmen Call for Immediate Relief and Change in Policy in Gaza

Statement by Congressman Brian Baird and Keith Ellison on their recent visit to Gaza

For Immediate Release February 19th 2009

Brian Views Destruction in Gaza – Calls for Immediate Relief and Change in

Washington, D.C. – Two members of Congress, Brian Baird (D-WA-03), and Keith
Ellison, (D-MN-05), visited Gaza on Thursday to view firsthand the
destruction from recent Israeli air and ground attacks and to meet with
international and local relief agencies. This visit, which did not have the
official sanction of the Obama Administration, is the first time anyone from
the U.S. government has entered Gaza in more than three years.

Prior to Gaza, both Congressmen met with the chief negotiator of the
Palestinian Authority, Dr. Saeb Erekat, as well as with Dr. Riad Malki
Foreign Minister of the Palestinian Authority. On Friday, Baird and Ellison
will tour the Israeli towns of Sderot and Ashkelon, which have been the
target of numerous rockets before and throughout the recent attacks launched
from within the Gaza strip.

"Staff from the U.S. State Department advised us of security concerns for
our own safety, and we are well aware of the sensitive political issues
involved in this visit," said both Congressmen in an official release.

"We believe it is important to be here to see what happened for ourselves,
to meet with people who have been affected, and to express our concern and
support," said Congressman Baird.

"We also want to better understand what can and must be done to recover from
the destruction, address the underlying issues, and work toward a lasting,
just and peaceful resolution," added Congressman Ellison.

After spending the day visiting various locations within Gaza and meeting
with civilians and relief workers, Baird and Ellison were deeply affected by
what they had seen and heard.

"The stories about the children affected me the most," said Ellison. "No
parent, or anyone who cares for kids, can remain unmoved by what Brian and I
saw here."

"The amount of physical destruction and the depth of human suffering here is
staggering" said Baird, "Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed, schools
completely leveled, fundamental water, sewer, and electricity facilities hit
and relief agencies heavily damaged. The personal stories of children being
killed in their homes or schools, entire families wiped out, and relief
workers prevented from evacuating the wounded are heart wrenching – what
went on here, and what is continuing to go on, is shocking and troubling
beyond words."

Inquiring about the status of relief efforts, the Congressmen learned that
some aid material has been allowed in since the intensity of the attacks
lessened a month ago, but much is still being blocked by the Israeli defense
forces. Examples of aid that has been banned by the Israeli Government
include: lentils, macaroni, tomato paste, lentils and other food. Basic
building materials, generator fuel and parts to repair damaged water
treatment equipment have also been kept out.

"If this had happened in our own country, there would be national outrage
and an appeal for urgent assistance. We are glad that the Obama
administration acted quickly to send much needed funding for this effort but
the arbitrary and unreasonable Israeli limitations on food and repair
essentials is unacceptable and indefensible. People, innocent children,
women and non-combatants, are going without water, food and sanitation,
while the things they so desperately need are sitting in trucks at the
border, being denied permission to go in" said Baird and Ellison.

The Congressmen's concerns about treatment of Palestinians were not limited
to Gaza. They also visited Palestinian hospitals that treat patients from
East Jerusalem and the West Bank. There they met with doctors, nurses and
hospital directors who described how official Israeli policies and
restricted border checkpoints make it exceedingly difficult and expensive
for patients, nurses, medical technicians, and other essential personnel to
reach the hospital to receive or provide care.

"It's hard for anyone in our country to imagine how it must feel to have a
sick child who needs urgent care or is receiving chemotherapy or dialysis,
then be forced to take a needlessly lengthy route, walk rather than drive,
and wait in lines as long as two hours simply to get to the hospital. As a
health care professional myself, I found this profoundly troubling, no,
actually it's beyond that, it is outrageous," said Baird.

Responding to this and other issues the Congressman emphasized that
fundamental changes and solutions are needed beyond the immediate challenges
in Gaza.

"The first and most urgent priority must be helping the people in Gaza. At
the same time, the rocket attacks against Israeli cities must stop
immediately. Just as the people of Gaza should not be subject to what they
have experienced the Israeli civilians should not have to live in fear of
constant and indiscriminate rocketing. The entire region and the
international community must recommit itself to making the difficult but
necessary changes to bring about lasting and just peace and security for the
region. President Obama has made important and encouraging initiatives, now
it is up to leaders and citizens here to move forward toward that shared


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