Last update - 19:47 27/02/2007
By The Associated Press
A group of Irish Roman Catholic bishops on Tuesday called into question Ireland's commercial ties with Israel, saying Israel has made the Gaza Strip "little more than a large prison" for Palestinians.
"Where there is evidence of systematic abuse of human rights on a large scale, as in the Occupied Territories, there are questions that must be asked concerning the appropriateness of maintaining close business, cultural and commercial links with Israel," said auxiliary Bishop of Dublin Raymond Field.
There is a long history of support for Palestinians in Ireland, particularly among nationalist parties such as Sinn Fein, which equate their own fight to end British rule in Ireland with the desire by Palestinians for their own state.
Field, chairman of the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs (ICJSA), which advises Ireland's top Catholic clerics on social issues, described travel restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as an "injustice."
"We are calling for an end to restrictions on family reunification, and an end to humiliating treatment of people at checkpoints," Field said in an ICJSA statement ahead of a meeting with Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern.
Field said restrictions, which Israel says protect it against Palestinian attacks, also make it difficult for Christians to worship at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
"In effect, the communities of Bethlehem and East Jerusalem are forced to live divided by a 25 foot wall," said Field.
"We also intend to raise with Minister Ahern the intolerable situation that is the daily lot of the Palestinians who live in Gaza," Field said.
The ICJSA's statement also questioned the way in which the European Union handled its dealings with Israel.
"While we welcome cooperation between the EU and its neighbouring countries, nevertheless such cooperation should not be at the expense of a large segment of the indigenous population - in this case the Palestinians."