16th Nov 2019

MEPs call for EU role in ending Gaza blockade

  • Israel has so far prohibited the transfer of any construction materials into Gaza (Photo: zoriah)

MEPs on Thursday (17 June) called for a stronger EU role in lifting the Gaza blockade, a day after foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton gave a chilling account of the situation there and suggested an EU naval mission to help with the transfer of goods.

Israel should "immediately" end the Gaza blockade, which has resulted in a "humanitarian disaster, paralysed the reconstruction and economy and aggravated political radicalisation," MEPs said in a resolution approved by an overwhelming majority.

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At the same time, they called on foreign policy chief Ms Ashton to submit an EU plan to help end the blockade.

The deputies propose international monitoring of the crossings, including reactivating the European border

assistance mission (EUBAM) at the Gaza-Egyptian border. The mission was suspended in 2005, when Hamas, considered a terrorist organisation by the EU, was elected to the Palestinian legislature. Two years later, Israel introduced a full blockade when Hamas took control of Gaza.

Speaking on Thursday in Brussels ahead of a meeting with EU leaders, Ms Ashton deflected questions on Israel's reluctance to see the EU involved on the ground.

"We've made the offer to re-open the border mission and we're waiting to see what they say. What matters in the end is that the crossings are opened and that we move from a list of allowed items to a list of non-allowed products," she said.

Ms Ashton floated the idea of a naval EU mission to help with the transfer of goods, but admitted this option would be "more complex" than helping monitor land crossings into Gaza. A spokeswoman for the foreign policy chief said this idea was "at a very early stage" and would have to find more backing among member states.

On Friday, Ms Ashton will chair a meeting of Middle-East experts working in the council of ministers and the EU Commission, to establish what else can be offered to the Israeli and Palestinian sides in order to stimulate the re-conciliation process. Foreign ministers meeting at the end of July would then take the matter forward.

The British peer, criticised for her lack of experience in foreign affairs, has developed a special interest in the lifting of the Gaza blockade, after becoming one of the first high-level foreign politician allowed into Gaza after the Israeli raids in December 2009. Speaking in the European Parliament on Wednesday, Ms Ashton said what she saw with her own eyes in Gaza was "shocking."

"The blockade denies Gaza the bricks and cement which the UN needs to build new schools, hospitals, housing and sanitation. It is a bizarre situation where flour, beans and margarine are allowed in but vinegar, chocolate and fresh meat are not," she said.

The Israeli government on Thursday announced an ease of the land blockade to the Gaza strip, which would allow construction materials for civilian projects carried out under international supervision. Also, all food items will be let freely into Gaza, an Israeli military official told AP.

Ms Ashton said she was following the Israeli statements "with great interest," but noted that these were "in principle" plans, the implementation of which remained to be seen.

Israel's policy shift on the three-year blockade on Gaza comes after increased international pressure following its deadly attack on 31 May on a Turkish vessel carrying humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territory. With nine Turkish citizens dead and many injured, the hawkish cabinet of Benjamin Netanyahu has come under fire for its handling of the Gaza blockade.

MEPs also called for an international, impartial investigation into the killings, after Israel announced a panel which includes one Israeli-friendly international observer and a controversial Canadian jurist.

EU member states continue to be divided on the issue, although they did agree to call for a "credible" investigation. Ms Ashton called the panel a "step forward," but noted that the inquiry had to be one that "Israelis, Palestinians and above all the people of Turkey can believe in."

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