U.N. envoy Tutu calls Gaza blockade illegal

GAZA Wed May 28, 2008 2:33pm BST

GAZA (Reuters) - U.N. envoy Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Wednesday called the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip illegal and urged Palestinian militants to halt cross-border rocket attacks from the Hamas-controlled territory.

Tutu said the blockade was "a siege" and a "gross violation to Human Rights", echoing rights groups which accuse Israel of collective punishment. Former President Jimmy Carter last month referred to the blockade as an atrocity.

Tutu, in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, said he was also sympathetic to "the people of Sderot those who suffer from the Qassam rockets, we care about them too", a reference to a southern Israeli town frequently targeted by Gaza militants.

The South African cleric, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 over his non-violent struggle against apartheid, heads a U.N. fact-finding commission investigating the deaths of 19 Palestinians in a 2006 Israeli artillery attack.

Israel has said a technical problem caused shells to mistakenly hit two homes in an area used by militants to fire rockets at the Jewish state.

The investigative team will present a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. Israel, which regards the group as biased against it, denied Tutu a visa, forcing him to cross into the Gaza Strip through Egypt.

Israel tightened its restrictions at Gaza border crossings after Hamas took over the territory last June.

(Writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Editing by Matthew Jones)