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Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu criticized Israel's refusal to allow him entry to the country, in his role as head of the U.S. special committee to investigate the November 2006 incident in Beit Hanun where 19 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire.

In a telephone interview with Haaretz after he met with Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza, Tutu said he was disappointed that he was not allowed to visit Sderot and meet the victims of the Qassam rocket attacks there.

The former archbishop of Capetown, South Africa - who won the Nobel in 1984 for his struggle against apartheid - was appointed to head the special committee by the UN human Rights Council in Geneva.

However, Israel has announced that it will not cooperate with the committee.

Committee representatives have asked the Israeli delegation to the UN in Geneva a number of times to make arrangements for a visit, but have never received replies. Tutu then decided to settle for a visit in Beit Hanun. He arrived in Gaza on Tuesday after traveling through Egypt, and entered the Gaza Strip via the Rafah Crossing.

Tutu, 77, expressed his astonishment at Israel's behavior, as he has been invited a number of times to speak in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on behalf of the Peres Center for Peace, where he is a member of the International Board of Governors, along with other Nobel Prize winners.

Tutu told Haaretz that he made it clear to Haniyeh and other Hamas members he spoke to that there is no difference between firing Qassam rockets on Israeli citizens and Israeli attacks on Gazans.

"We also say that the people of Sderot suffer from the Qassam rockets. We care about them too," said Tutu.

He said he expects the Israelis, as those who remember the Holocaust, like the South Africans, to be sensitive to the suffering of the Palestinians. Tutu added that he did not remember the last time he was so deeply shocked as when he met with the families of the victims of the Israeli shelling of Beit Hanun.