26th Jun 2019

Change in tone on Gaza by EU aid chief

  • Strong words for both sides from Mr Michel (Photo: European Commission)

The European Union's humanitarian aid commissioner in a visit to Gaza on Monday (26 January) attacked the occupied territory's leaders as "a terrorist movement" and denounced the Israeli invasion as "abominable".

"Hamas has an enormous responsibility for what happened here in Gaza," said commissioner Louis Michel while visiting a UN aid compound that had been bombed by Israel.

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He denounced Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel as a "provocation" and said the Islamist party was "acting in the way of a terrorist movement."

Mr Michel also had sharp words for Tel Aviv.

"What I saw was abominable. It was unjustified," he said, calling on Israel to open border crossings not only to food and medicine, but also to construction materials.

Despite the even-handedness, the comments are a marked change for the commissioner, who during the height of the conflict issued some of the strongest denunciations of the Jewish state's actions of any European senior official or leader, telling Belgian daily La Libre Belgique on 13 January that Israel was in breach of international law.

"The evidence, which experts agree on and denounce, shows that Israel is not respecting international human rights laws," Mr Michel had said.

"The first obligation is that an occupying power must preserve the lives of the population, protect them, feed them and look after them. That is manifestly not the case."

"I can't accept it," he continued, seeming at the time to distance himself from scheduled EU plans to upgrade its relationship with Israel.

While in the territory, Mr Michel did not meet with Gaza's leaders, as Hamas remains on the EU's terror list.

He announced an additional €58 million in humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territories for 2009, including €32 million for Gaza. Annually the EU spends €600-700 million on the lands Israel has occupied since 1967.

Meanwhile, also on Monday, the EU's chief diplomat, Javier Solana, announced he would head to the region to aid international efforts to buttress the cease-fire between the two sides.

Mr Solana said he will likely spend a full week in the Middle East, meeting with the new US administration's envoy to the region, George Mitchell, also scheduled to spend a week there, but that he will first hold discussions with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Tuesday (27 January).

Mr Mitchell, for his part, is to visit Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. He will also be visiting Paris and London as part of the trip.

Separately, in Brussels on Monday, EU foreign ministers agreed to support efforts to bring an end to arms trafficking into Gaza and to promote a unity government between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, controlled by secular rival Fatah.

Germany also announced it would be sending five border experts to aid Egypt with its patrols.

Development organisations were disappointed with the outcome of the foreign ministers meeting, frustrated that the EU is not calling on Israel to lift the blockade.

Elise Ford, head of Oxfam International's EU office, said: "EU foreign ministers have failed to put the maximum pressure on Israel and other parties to ensure that all the crossings open and stay open so Gazans can live a normal life, not just struggle to survive."

"After nineteen months of blockade and three weeks of violent conflict, what the ordinary people of Gaza need now is a lifeline from the EU, not another nineteen months of collective punishment."

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