Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Mahmoud Abbas 311 .
(photo credit: AP)
urged Israel over the weekend to lift its blockade of Gaza, as they
drafted plans to revive and expand the European Union’s role in
monitoring goods heading into the area.
On Monday, the EU Foreign
Affairs Council plans to debate the matter.
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Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said at a joint press conference
with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Saturday that his
country wants to “forge a strong common position” with EU countries in
the face of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
that at Monday’s Council meeting, Spain’s foreign minister, Miguel Angel
Moratinos, would propose that the EU deploy “all its political and
diplomatic capability” to end the Gaza blockade.
On Friday, the
foreign ministers from France, Italy and Spain wrote an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune in
which they joined in the call. They were careful to insist that captive
IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, held by Hamas in Gaza since June 2006, be
The ministers also acknowledged Israel’s security
concerns: “Lifting the blockade,” they said, “must not go hand-in-hand
with a resurgence in arms trafficking and an influx of terrorist groups
The quantity and variety of goods entering Gaza must
increase, they said, offering as one possibility a proposal by Quartet
Middle East envoy Tony Blair. Blair has “suggested a shift from a logic
of denial of supplies to Gaza, with some exceptions, to a logic based on
general authorization, with the exception of banned products.”
not adopt this idea?” they asked. “To guarantee full security of
supplies, we propose that inspections supported and funded by the
European Union should be put in place [at land crossings] in conditions
acceptable by all in order to ensure that consignments bound for Gaza
contain neither weapons nor explosives,” they said.
regime could in addition be applied to [sea-bound] consignments bound
for Gaza, for example by deploying EU monitoring teams in Cyprus. These
various arrangements would be implemented only against a backdrop of
very substantial relaxation of the restrictions on imports and exports
to and from Gaza,” they said.
The ministers added that they
wanted to expand the role of the European Border Assistance Mission
(EUBAM), which has been stationed in Ashkelon since the 2007 Hamas coup
in Gaza that made it impossible for Fatah to monitor the Rafah crossing,
which links Egypt with Gaza.
They said they wanted to see EUBAM
return to Rafah. Diplomatic sources have told The Jerusalem Post that the EU is also considering
placing EUBAM at two of the three land crossings linking Israel and
Gaza: Karni and Kerem Shalom.
they did not address many of the technical problems inherent in
opening a sea route to Gaza or in fully opening the land crossings –
such as the fact that Gaza’s port is not large enough to accommodate
cargo ships. In addition, the agreement under which EUBAM operates is
between Fatah and Israel and involves the placement of Fatah on the
Palestinian side of the crossings. Hamas is not interested in having
Fatah at the crossings.
Since the Gaza coup, in an attempt to economically cripple Hamas,
Israel has closed the land crossings to all but humanitarian goods.
Recently it has relaxed some of those restrictions and, in particular,
allowed in building material for 12 projects.
On Friday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with Blair in
Jerusalem to drum up support for Israel’s right to continue its naval
blockade of Gaza by which it searches and halts ships heading there so
as to prevent weapons from flowing into that area by sea.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu told Blair that
goods could enter Gaza by other means.
Israel has said it could show flexibility with respect to the quantity
and variety of goods heading into Gaza by land. It has, however,
insisted it does not intend to allow a full revival of the Gaza
economy, because such a move would only strengthen Hamas.
AP contributed to this report.