(photo credit: AP [file])
Calling Gaza a "prison" and a "ghetto," European Union parliamentarians harshly condemned Israeli actions there in a special session held in Brussels on Wednesday.
During the hour-long, heated debate in advance of a Thursday vote on a resolution, parliamentarians, as well as EU officials, called on Israel to open the Gaza borders to alleviate the growing humanitarian crisis in the impoverished area where 1.1 million of the 1.4 m. population are dependant on the international donations for basic food supplies.
In one of the more impassioned speeches, Belgian MEP Veronique De Keyser called Gaza a "ghetto" where "people are dying little by little with cameras trained on them."
While the IDF is working on a proposal to close the borders between Gaza and Israel in favor of Egyptian crossings, EU parliamentarians called on Israel to find a solution to the problem.
In particular, it urged Israel to live up to its commitment to ensure pedestrian passage at Rafah and full commercial movement in Karni.
The Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June forced the closure of the main commercial crossing into Israel at Karni and the pedestrian one into Egypt at Rafah. The third major crossing into Israel at Erez has been opened for limited pedestrian traffic.
Since June, the IDF, along with the United Nations, has worked to bring basic supplies, agricultural products and limited goods into the area through alternative crossings at Sufa and Kerem Shalom.
Among the stumbling blocks to opening the crossing have been continued mortar attacks by Hamas on the passages and the absence of a viable plan to replace the Fatah personnel who had manned the Gaza borders on the Palestinian side.
In a more measured speech than some of the others, Portuguese Secretary of State for European Affairs Manuel Antunes Lobo attacked Israel's decision last month to declare Gaza a "hostile territory" and said that such a move "exacerbated" an already bad situation.
"The European Union recognizes Israel's legitimate right of self defense but asks Israel to carefully consider the consequences of its decision." He added that "access and movement" agreements regarding the borders need to still be respected even in the current situation.
The EU, he said, remains committed to helping out the Palestinians financially both in the West Bank and Gaza. In 2006, it gave out â‚¬688 million in humanitarian assistance and this year it has already shelled out â‚¬425m., he said.
EU Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said she was particularly disturbed by the fact that the border closures had forced the suspension of important water and sanitation projects.
But even as she took spoke of the EU's continued financial commitment to the Palestinians, she called on the Arab states - who have not contributed in the same way we did - to step up and "do their part in the future."
One British MEP, Chris Davies, said it should be Israel and not EU taxpayers who should foot the bill to solve the Palestinian humanitarian crisis.
"What does it have to do with the EU? Gaza is an Israeli prison camp. It is the Israelis who should be responsible. They are the ones that keep them in misery," said Davis.
Not all the parliamentarians were negative toward Israeli actions in Gaza. A few mentioned Hamas violence against Israel and Palestinians, as well as Hamas attacks against the crossings. In particular, they held Hamas responsible for the recent murder by Muslim extremists of a Christian bookstore owner in Gaza.
In one particularly pro-Israel speech, British MEP Charles Tannock said Israel "is actually acting with restraint and moderation" given that Hamas is "committed to Israel's destruction."
He added that he knew Israel had come to expect attacks from the European Parliament but he wanted the country to know that "it does have some friends."