Monday, January 26, 2009

Top EU official: Hamas bears full responsibility for Gaza war

Jan. 26, 2009

Hamas bears full responsibility for the war in Gaza, a top EU official said Monday in the Strip, calling the group "a terrorist movement."

"At this time we have to also recall the overwhelming responsibility of Hamas," Louis Michel, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, told reporters. "I intentionally say this here - Hamas is a terrorist movement and it has to be denounced as such," Michel said as he visited the town of Jabalya in northern Gaza.

"Public opinion is fed up to see that we are paying over and over again - be it the (European) commission, the member states or the major donors - for infrastructure that will be systematically destroyed," he said.

Michel announced €58 million ($74 million) in emergency aid Monday for Palestinians

Around €32 million ($41.7 million) of the aid package will go to alleviate immediate needs in Gaza such as shortages in drinking water, food and medical supplies. Another €20 million ($26 million) will go to projects in the West Bank, the remaining €6 million ($7.8 million) to Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

The European Commission last month approved €3 million ($3.9 million) in emergency aid for Gaza.

Meanwhile, the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said Monday he was heading to the Middle East to join international efforts to cement a permanent cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.

Solana said he would probably spend the whole week in the region and meet with US President Barack Obama's new Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Tuesday.

"We want a permanent cease-fire, and for that everybody has to cooperate, and I hope very much the initiatives taken by the Egyptians ... will provide results," Solana said.

In Brussels, EU foreign ministers discussed a package of diplomatic and practical measures that European countries could take to advance Middle East peace efforts. Their goals include halting arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip and promoting a unity government between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier announced plans to send five German border experts to help their Egyptian counterparts patrol their Gaza border more effectively. The German experts would provide technical support for operating night-vision equipment needed to find smugglers' illegal tunnels into Gaza.

Several EU countries, including Britain and France, also are offering naval vessels and monitors to help Egypt curb the smuggling of weapons into Gaza.
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