Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams is to visit the Middle East next week.
Mr Adams will visit Gaza to witness damage caused by Israel’s three-week military offensive, and will also meet members of the Palestinian Authority.
Almost a thousand Palestinian civilians died, including hundreds of children, when Israel bombed and then invaded Gaza at the turn of the New Year.
Israeli officials have refused to meet Mr Adams during his trip because he would not rule out meeting members of Hamas, the government in Gaza. The US, EU and UN will not deal with any Palestinian officials who do not recognise Israel.
The Sinn Féin leader, who visited the Middle East in 2006, said he regretted the Israeli government’s refusal to meet him.
“I will meet with senior members of the Palestinian Authority. I again (as in 2006) asked for a meeting with the Israeli government or with government officials,” Adams told the Press Association. “But again this has been refused because I will not give a commitment not to speak with Hamas representatives.”
Speaking about Adams’ visit, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, told the Jerusalem Post: “We expect all dignitaries who come here to make it clear that they will not dignify Hamas with a meeting.”
Mr Adams said he regretted the Israeli decision to refuse to meet him.
“As the leader of a party which was censored and demonised and whose members were killed, I see dialogue between all sides as key to building a successful peace process,” he said.
“So I will meet with all sides and urge all sides to end all armed actions and to engage in meaningful dialogue. I believe there should be a complete cessation of all hostilities and freedom of movement for everyone.
“This requires a sustainable and durable state for the Palestinian people. They share the region with their Israeli neighbors. Without doubt, the security of the people of Israel is linked inextricably to the rights, freedom and prosperity of the people of Palestine.
“They can co-exist peacefully together. I am certain about that.”
Mr Adams said there were “similarities” between the political process in Ireland and the Middle East, but “there are also significant differences”.
“But it is clear that finding solutions will require leadership on both sides, and a willingness to take risks, initiatives, and compromise,” he said.
“And it will need the international community, and particularly the USA, to play a very positive and active role.”
In 2006, Adams visited both Israel and the Palestinian town of Ramallah. While there he laid a wreath at the tomb of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.