UNITED NATIONS — The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations on Tuesday invited New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and top state legislators who are heading to Israel this week to visit the Palestinian territories and experience "all sides of the conflict, not just one."
Ambassador Riyad Mansour said in a letter to Cuomo obtained by The Associated Press that the delegation's visit to express "solidarity" only with Israel will encourage the Israelis' belief that their "military aggression" in Gaza is justified.
"The responsible action would be to visit the Palestinian people and their leadership too and to see first-hand the wider context of this conflict, and the heavy toll it is taking on innocent Palestinian civilians across the occupied Palestinian territory," Mansour said.
He said Israel's latest military operation in Gaza cost the lives of nearly 2,000 Palestinians and that for the last eight years Israel has maintained a chokehold on the territory, controlling it by land, sea and air in addition to its food and water supplies.
"Due to the blockade 43 percent of Palestinians living in Gaza are unemployed, 57 percent are food insecure and 80 percent are dependent on food aid," Mansour said. "What would you do if 80 percent of New Yorkers were on the brink of starvation at the hands of an occupying power?"
Cuomo told reporters before leaving for Israel that he only received the letter late Tuesday "so we haven't even gotten to see it." He added that the delegation is only on the ground for 30 hours and "it's been scheduled literally to the minute."
"This trip is to show solidarity with Israel and that's what we're going to do," Cuomo said, noting that there are 1.7 million Jews in New York State, more than any other place except Israel.
"It's a very, very difficult time for Israel ... and we want them to know that we stand with them," he said.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told reporters that "the Palestinians are using their citizens to protect their missiles, and that's why you have civilian casualties."
Senate co-leader Dean Skelos accused Hamas, which controls Gaza, of killing Palestinians and sending kids to be "homicide bombers."
"I would have no desire at this time to go to Gaza and to give any credibility whatsoever to Hamas," he said.