22nd Jan 2022

Rocket attack overshadows EU visit to Gaza

  • War damage in Gaza: An Israeli assault in 2009 killed 1,400 civilians and led to a blockade on aid shipments into the territory (Photo: zoriah)

A deadly rocket attack against Israel from Gaza has threatened to spark fresh fighting in the region, overshadowing a high-level EU humanitarian mission.

A Palestinian militant group calling itself Ansar al-Sunna fired the Qassam rocket from Gaza early on Thursday (18 March) killing a Thai-origin farm worker in Israel's Negev district.

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The attack came shortly after EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton entered Gaza on a highly-anticipated trip designed to spotlight the humanitarian cost of Israel's blockade of aid shipments to the territory.

Ms Ashton's delegation visited a UN-run food distribution bureau, an EU-funded centre for deaf children and an EU-funded girls school before returning to Israel.

"I condemn any kind of violence. We have got to find a peaceful solution to the issues and problems," she told local media. "What we have been saying to the Israelis for a long time is that we need to allow aid into this region, to be able to support the economy to grow for people to have the things they are clearly lacking," she added.

The Ashton visit came as a breakthrough after Israel had denied access to Gaza to several senior EU politicians over the past year. But the threat of renewed fighting is likely to put off any talk on the aid blockade for now.

"The Israeli response will be appropriate. It will be strong," Israel's deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai said following news of the Qassam blast. "This is a crossing of a red line, which Israel cannot accept."

The Gaza strip is controlled by the more moderate Palestinian militant group Hamas, which linked the rocket fire to Israel's construction activity near Islamic holy sites in East Jerusalem.

"It has no connection [to the Ashton trip]. People are angry because of what is happening in East Jerusalem and because the world is keeping silent about it," Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad told EUobserver.

Ms Ashton did not meet with any Hamas officials during the visit in line with an international embargo on talks with the group, which is considered a terrorist entity by the EU.

Hamas carried out a safety inspection of Ms Ashton's planned route though Gaza prior to her visit and provided "two or three cars" with unarmed security staff to accompany her convoy, Mr Hamad said.

"We co-ordinated with the UN here to facilitate her crossing."

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