28th May 2022

Charities urge EU ministers to visit Gaza

  • Man surveys damage after Israel's "Cast Lead" military operation, which unfolded in December 2008 (Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi)

A coalition of 16 aid groups has urged the EU's new foreign relations chief to visit Gaza as part of an effort to end Israel's blockade of the strip.

"EU heads of states, foreign and development ministers and the EU's new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy should visit Gaza for themselves to better understand the impact of the blockade," the group, which includes Amnesty International and Oxfam, said in a report out on Tuesday (22 December).

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"A visit to Gaza should be part of every European high-level visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory."

The report, timed to coincide with the one year anniversary of a major Israeli assault on Gaza, highlights how few senior EU officials have recently made it to the Palestinian territory, which is controlled by Hamas, an organisation classified as a terrorist entity by the union.

The Swedish foreign minister, the British and Dutch development ministers and the Quartet's [the EU, US, UN and Russia] special envoy, former British premier Tony Blair, are the only European VIPs to visit the strip since the Israeli attack in December last year.

Israeli authorities earlier this month stopped a delegation of nine MEPs from entering Gaza after saying the EU is marginalising itself in the peace process by taking a pro-Palestinian line on the future status of Jerusalem.

The EU's new foreign relations chief, Catherine Ashton, is due to visit the region in late January or early February.

Her itinerary has not yet been confirmed. But her recent speech to the European Parliament, criticising Israeli actions in East Jerusalem, drew a rebuke from Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, who compared the EU and the UN to the Roman Empire as powers seeking to cut off the city.

Israel controls five of the crossings into the isolated Gaza strip, with Egypt operating the sixth entry point, which also remains under tight restrictions.

The aid agencies say the Israeli bombardment last year destroyed over 6,300 homes in Gaza, as well as damaging schools, hospitals, power plants and water sanitation facilities, leaving 600,000 tonnes of rubble to clear as well as causing large-scale civilian deaths.

The blockade has seen just four trucks a month of construction materials allowed into the strip over the past year. It has also strangled the local economy, where over 70 percent of people live on less than $1 a day.

"The wretched reality endured by 1.5 million people in Gaza should appal anybody with an ounce of humanity. Sick, traumatised and impoverished people are being collectively punished by a cruel, illegal policy," Amnesty International activist Kate Allen said.

"Those who want Gaza to have free access to the world should first and foremost endeavour to stop the Hamas rule of terror, so that crossings to Israel and to Egypt can be operated without fear," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told Israeli daily Haaretz.

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