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Bildt makes unexpected visit to Gaza

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Bildt makes unexpected visit to Gaza
11:41 CET+01:00
Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt on Tuesday paid a surprise visit to Gaza, touring a demolished factory and a hospital damaged during Israel's 22-day assault on the Palestinian enclave.

He met with UN and hospital officials and surveyed the damage from the war -- which killed more than 1,330 Palestinians -- but did not meet with anyone from the Hamas-run government that has ruled Gaza since June 2007.

Bildt began the one-day tour with a visit to the ruins of the Atta Abu Jibba cement-packing factory on the outskirts of Gaza City, which was almost completely destroyed by Israeli forces.

During a short-lived truce last year the factory received shipments of cement from an Israeli company, but now its main warehouse has completely collapsed and a cement silo teeters on a shattered base.

The foreign minister told AFP he was surprised by the "amount of deliberate destruction of the economic infrastructure" in Gaza, which has also been reeling from more than 18 months of strict Israeli sanctions.

"When I looked at the site of the factory it was clear that it had been deliberately mined and blown up," he said, adding that such actions would have "a long-term detrimental effect" on Middle East peace efforts.

Bildt also toured the Al-Quds hospital in the Tal al-Hawa neighbourhood of Gaza City that had caught fire during heavy fighting, forcing hundreds of patients and displaced people to flee after dark.

The foreign minister had been an early critic of the offensive -- the largest assault Israel has ever launched on the impoverished territory -- and said "much more could be done" in the way of easing the sanctions on Gaza.

He returned to Israel later on Tuesday.

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