The war-torn Middle East can learn from the Northern Irish peace process by ending violence through dialogue, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said today.
Mr Adams addressed Sinn Fein representatives on the steps of Stormont's Parliament building in a demonstration demanding an end to Israeli attacks on Gaza.
Republican politicians who held a banner reading "Stop the Slaughter in Gaza" were joined by members of the nationalist SDLP, but unionists branded the event blinkered and one-sided.
"I was in the West Bank about two years ago," said Mr Adams.
"I was in a refugee camp that had been established in 1949 and in the 60 years since then, the people of Palestine have been treated in an inhumane and in a totally unacceptable way."
He said the current attacks on Gaza by Israeli forces followed a trade embargo and the building of a wall closing off Palestinian areas.
Mr Adams said: "We need to make clear that all hostilities, all armed actions in that region should cease.
"That shouldn't be a precondition to the effort to establish a peace settlement.
"Sinn Fein is arguing for direct dialogue. For decades here, those in positions of power refused to engage in direct dialogue and perpetuated the conflict.
"Direct dialogue in the Middle East means the Israeli government recognising the mandate that Hamas has and talking directly with them."
He said he believed the violence in Gaza was influenced by political considerations, including the approaching inauguration of US president-elect Barack Obama.
The Sinn Fein leader said the Irish Government should match positive words on the issue with actions. He criticised the British Government's stance and said the international community, including the European Union and the US, could play a positive role.
"The objective should be a negotiated peace settlement and a viable state for the people of Palestine," he said.
Mr Adams called for the building of a movement similar to the anti-apartheid campaign that demanded reforms in South Africa, to press for a Middle East settlement.
The SDLP's Carmel Hanna said innocent civilians, including children, were being killed in Gaza and she called for an end to the violence.
But Robin Newton of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said the Sinn Fein event was blinkered and anti-Israeli.
"The situation in Gaza has been created by the terrorist group Hamas as they rained rockets down on the homes, schools and businesses of southern Israel," he said.
"That needs to be kept to the forefront of everyone's mind at this time.
"Sinn Fein's event is not inspired by concerns for innocent people but is motivated by their antipathy towards Israel and her people.
"If Sinn Fein is to have any credibility at all on this issue, they need to call on Hamas to reject terrorism and embrace democratic principles."