Tuesday

28th Jan 2020

Ashton throws down the gauntlet over Gaza trip

  • Man surveys war damage to Gaza after last year's attack (Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi)

EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton has said she plans to visit Gaza on her Middle East trip next week, putting Israeli authorities in an awkward position.

"I have asked to go to Gaza, we'll see what happens," she told press at an informal EU ministers' meeting in Cordoba, Spain, over the weekend, according to Reuters. "We are providing a huge amount of aid into Gaza and I'm very interested to make sure that we are seeing the benefits of that aid going in."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

Ms Ashton is to travel to Israel, Egypt, Syria and Jordan on 17 March on her first official journey to the region.

The Israeli authorities had not yet responded as of Monday morning. But there are concerns that her visit could lend legitimacy to Hamas, which controls the territory and which is listed by the EU as a terrorist entity.

Israel has in the recent past blocked foreign dignitaries, including French, Belgian and Turkish ministers as well as MEPs, from crossing into the strip from Israel.

"Egypt may be an alternative," Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, one of Israel's stronger EU critics, said in Cordoba, on the possibility of Ms Ashton crossing over from the Egyptian border instead.

Irish foreign minister Michael Martin told the Irish Times that he has briefed Ms Ashton about malnutrition and lack of clean drinking water in Gaza as a result of Israel's blockade following his recent visit.

"I made the point as well that this is wholly counterproductive to the peace process, that Hamas is earning increased revenue from the tunnels [underground passages dug by smugglers], making Hamas stronger and it makes no sense," he explained.

The blockade was imposed following Israel's attack on Gaza in early 2009, which killed 1,400 civilians and destroyed infrastructure.

Israel says it is needed to stop materials, such as steel pipes and fertiliser, used to make weapons, from getting in. But the policy has been roundly criticised by international aid agencies and Ms Ashton herself.

Air Force one

The Cordoba meeting also witnessed the first high-level debate on the EU's future diplomatic corps, as Ms Ashton gears up to make a proposal on its structure later this month.

Ms Ashton complained to press that lack of resources, such as her own plane, is holding her back in her work. Last week she flew on a Spanish government jet to Haiti and then a French one to Spain.

Ministers from the UK, Sweden, Finland, Luxembourg and Spain lined up in Cordoba to defend her record so far as she approaches a symbolic 100 days in office.

But France, which has led criticism of her until now, had nothing positive to say, despite foreign minister Bernard Kouchner sharing the plane ride with Ms Ashton to Cordoba. "There is a lot of work to do. We will discuss it now," he said on arrival.

An unnamed Spanish diplomat told AFP that Ms Ashton should get her own aircraft - a comfort denied even to the EU commission and EU council presidents as things stand.

"Mrs Ashton plays in the same league as [US secretary of state] Hillary Clinton, or the Russian foreign minister," the contact explained. "Her own plane would not be a luxury, but a question of survival."

EU warned on 'vigilance' after Davos spy fail

European counter-intelligence services need to "seriously raise the level of vigilance" on Russian spies, UK activist Bill Browder has said after news of a botched operation at Davos.

China spy suspect worked for EU for 30 years

The former EU ambassador suspected by German prosecutors of spying for China was Gerhard Sabathil, according to EU officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

Nuclear arms race threat after EU rebukes Iran

EU powers have triggered a process that could bring the world back to 2006, when sanctions and threats were all that stood in the way of a Middle East nuclear arms race.

News in Brief

  1. Cases of coronavirus in France and Germany
  2. Report: EU court seeks authority on post-Brexit deal
  3. Slovenian PM resigns, calls snap election
  4. Merkel wants EU-Balkan talks agreement by March
  5. Germany: UN sanctions to enforce Libya ceasefire
  6. Irish PM: UK weaker than EU in trade talks
  7. Report warns of challenges under new EU telecom rules
  8. EU countries to evacuate citizens from virus-hit Wuhan in China

Magazine

EU diplomacy 2.0

MEPs on the foreign affairs committee ought to be like second-tier EU diplomats on the Western Balkans and Russia, according to its German chairman, but foreign policy splits could bedevil its work.

Opinion

'A game of roulette' - life as a journalist now in Turkey

Turkey has more journalists behind bars than any other country in the world. The authorities seem to equate journalism with terrorism: everyone has the right to express themselves, but, in their eyes, legitimate journalism is a threat to security.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. 'Brexit is not going to go away,' warns EU's Barnier
  2. Belgian spy services launch internal clear-up
  3. US and UK in war of words over Huwaei
  4. How Slovakia's far-right might pull off an election victory
  5. Trump's 'plan' for Israel will go against EU values
  6. Salvini down, but not out in Italy regional poll
  7. Brexit finally happens - the UK leaves the EU This WEEK
  8. Why is Netherlands so far behind on renewables?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us