Sen. Kerry leads first US Congressional visit to Gaza amid exchange of fire

Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the US Senate foreign relations committee, crossed over in a UN vehicle through the Israel-Gaza Erez crossing Thursday, Feb. 19, after visiting the missile-battered Israeli town of Sderot. The senator stressed that his visit did not reflect “any shift whatsoever with respect to Hamas.”
Inspecting the ruins of the American school blasted in Israel’s 22-day offensive last month, Sen. Kerry told a Palestinian lawyer: “Your leadership needs to understand that any nation that has rockets coming into it over many years, threatening its citizens, is going to respond.”
Kerry’s next stop is Damascus on Saturday.
The arrival of the US lawmakers came amid an exchange of fire after the Palestinians fired two rockets and two mortar rounds into Israel. Israeli responded with an air strike against Palestinian border smuggling tunnels. Witnesses reported to the AFP that their armored vehicles entered Gaza City after being fired on by Palestinian anti-tank rockets.
No one was hurt in any of these incidents. The Palestinians have fired 50 rockets and mortar shells since Israel ended its Gaza operation Jan. 18.
Kerry and the two congressmen traveling separately to Gaza, Reps. Brian Bair and Keith Ellison, talked to UN officials about efforts to rebuild Gaza – but did not see Hamas leaders.
“What has to change,” said the senator during his earlier visit to Sderot “is behavior. What has to change obviously is Hamas’s consistent resort to instruments of terror.”
He stressed “the politics of the Obama administration and this Democratic Congress remain the same with respect to Hamas.”

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