Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams: Gaza Is an Open-air Prison

Adams meets with Haniyeh during two-day visit to Strip, says Hamas chief told him group wants peace agreement.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams Thursday denounced the Israel-led blockade on Gaza as having turned the coastal strip into an "open-air prison," news agencies reported.

"This is a total denial of the rights of the people of Palestine. This is an open-air prison," The Guardian quoted the Sinn Fein president as saying during a visit to the Hamas-ruled territory. "People can't travel out of here, they can't travel in."

Adams met with the head of the internationally-shunned Hamas government during a two-day visit to Gaza, and said he plans to brief President Obama's special Mideast envoy about his contacts. "Mr. Haniyeh told me that Hamas wants a peace agreement," Adams told reporters after the meeting.

"I outlined to him Sinn Fein's view that there should be a complete cessation of all hostilities and armed actions by all sides. The obligation is that what happened here doesn't happen again," Adams said, referring to the destruction the IDF caused in one Gaza neighborhood during Operation Cast Lead.

Adams called for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to prevent a repeat of the military campaign.

Haniyeh's meeting with Adams, at an undisclosed location in Gaza City, was not announced ahead of time. TV footage from a local news channel showed Adams sitting in an armchair next to Haniyeh. The Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported that Haniyeh told the Northern Irish republican leader that Israel achieved nothing in its recent offensive against Hamas apart from "killing innocent men, women, children and police officers."

Adams, who met social activists, business people and Hamas and Fatah officials, reportedly spoke little, refrained from giving direct advice and mainly listened. Adams, a key player in Northern Ireland's peace process and the political change in Sinn Fein, told his hosts about the Irish struggle and the importance of internal unity. He said Sinn Fein reached the conclusion that it had to be pragmatic to break the circle of conflict in which the Irish and British were caught up for hundreds of years.

Adams had asked to meet senior Israeli officials as well, but Israel stipulated that he undertake not to meet Hamas officials, which Adams rejected emphatically. Until midday on Wednesday, it was not clear whether Israel would permit him to enter the Gaza Strip.

Before entering the Strip, Adams and his party visited Sderot and Kfar Aza and met Israelis who live there, including MK Shai Hermesh (Kadima).

Adams' spokesman Richard McAuley said they could identify with the fear and trauma that Israelis felt under rocket fire.

After hearing from Haniyeh about Israel and the world's veto on Hamas' government, after it won the majority vote in free, democratic elections, Adams said the international community, especially the United States, should encourage the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to conduct direct talks.

Adams met three Fatah officials in Gaza Thursday.

"Most of the Irish people supports the Palestinians and is interested in the situation in Palestine," Adams said.

McAuley, who has also served time behind bars, said he and Adams were familiar with many aspects of the Palestinian reality - military attacks, arrests, destruction of neighborhoods, violation of human rights and restrictions on movement. However, the movement restrictions imposed on the Irish had never been so draconian as those imposed on the Palestinians in Gaza, he said.

Adams and his colleagues are due to hold talks with officials in Ramallah on Friday.