(photo credit: REUTERS)
BRUSSELS - The European Union on Friday said it was willing to reactivate an EU mission on the Egypt-Gaza border to help stabilize the Palestinian enclave after weeks of war.
At talks in Brussels, foreign ministers representing the 28 EU countries welcomed a ceasefire in Gaza and said they could relaunch the EU Border Assistance Mission for the Rafah crossing point (EUBAM Rafah) and possibly expand its scope.
"The EU is ready to support a possible international mechanism endorsed by the UN Security Council, including through the reactivation and possible extension in scope and mandate of its EUBAM Rafah," a statement following the EU meeting said.
"The EU commends the considerable efforts and commitment of Egypt to broker this and earlier deals. The situation in the Gaza Strip has been unsustainable for many years and a return to the status quo prior to the latest conflict is not an option. A durable ceasefire must lead to a fundamental improvement in the living conditions for the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip through the lifting of the Gaza closure regime, and it must end the threat to Israel posed by Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza as demonstrated by rocket attacks and tunnel construction.
"All terrorist groups in Gaza must disarm," the ministers said.
Both the United States and the European Union have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Israel's Foreign Ministry released a statement on Friday night stating that Israel like the EU views as important the Egyptian initiative to try to achieve a long-term cease-fire to the Gaza hostilities.
The Foreign Ministry said that it welcomed the EU ministers repeated calls for the terror organizations in Gaza to disarm.
"Dedication to the principle of demilitarization that will be enforced by an effective mechanism, will ensure that the situation in Gaza is changed from its foundation. Israel will continue to carry on a dialogue with the European Union on these important questions," the ministry's statement declared.
The EU ministers' statement stated that "the situation in the Gaza Strip has to be seen within the broader context of the Middle East Peace Process and the prospect of comprehensive peace where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace with secure and recognized borders."
"The Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the territory occupied in 1967 and will be part of a future State of Palestine. The situation in the Gaza Strip cannot and must not be seen separately from the broader challenges and developments on the ground that continue to make the prospect of the two-state solution increasingly difficult to attain," the ministers declared. The Rafah Crossing
The EU started to monitor the Rafah crossing point - the main window on the world for Gaza's 1.8 million Palestinians - in 2005 as part of an accord aimed at easing Israeli security concerns after it pulled its troops and settlers from Gaza.
However, the operation was halted two years later when Hamas militants seized control of the coastal enclave and ousted the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.
To help reactivate the mission, the EU foreign ministers said they also supported the launch of a training program for Palestinian Authority customs personnel and police for redeployment in Gaza.
Egypt, which was not involved in the negotiation of the 2005 agreement, has repeatedly shut the Rafah border over the past year, significantly increasing pressure on Gazans, who already face a rigid land and sea blockade imposed by Israel.
The EU ministers also raised the possibility that an international donors' conference could be organized to help pay for reconstruction of Gaza after the conflict.