louis michel 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Hamas bears an "overwhelming responsibility" for the destruction of Gaza, a senior European Union official said Monday, as he toured the area to see the destruction caused by Israel's 22-day military offensive there.
But Louis Michel also leveled harsh words against Israel for killing civilians and bombing nonmilitary targets during the fighting.
Both sides violated international humanitarian law, said Michel, who is the EU development and humanitarian aid commissioner. He estimated that at least half of the dead in Gaza were civilians.
Even though he was "shocked" by what he saw in Gaza, he had uncharacteristically harsh words for Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since it staged a violent coup there in June 2007.
"At this time we have to also recall the overwhelming responsibility of Hamas," said Michel, according to AFP. "I intentionally say this here: Hamas is a terrorist movement and it has to be denounced as such."
Reuters quoted Michel as criticizing Hamas for its use of civilians as "human shields" and for fighting in populated areas.
The EU, the main aid donor to Palestinian civilians, has in the past contributed to the construction of Gaza infrastructure.
Last week, when EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero Waldner visited Israel, she said that the EU would not pay to rebuild Gaza until a government that it found acceptable was in power there.
On Monday, Michel was more frank, saying the EU was tired of paying for the same infrastructure only to have it repeatedly destroyed.
Speaking with reporters later in Tel Aviv, he said, "It is very frustrating that the EU commission and the member states are systematically obliged morally to pay and to pay once more for infrastructures that we have already paid for once or twice or three times," said Michel.
Still, he announced that the EU was prepared to spend $74 million in aid to Palestinian civilians, including $41 million earmarked to "respond to the dramatic humanitarian situation in Gaza" following Israel's offensive.
Michel insisted none of the funds would be channeled to Hamas.
He also called on Israel to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza above and beyond the nearly 200 trucks that have entered almost daily this week.
There should be 500 to 600 trucks a day going into Gaza, Michel said, as he visited Sderot. The people in Gaza need more than just humanitarian aid, they also need goods to help stimulate the economy, he said.
Both in Sderot and again in Tel Aviv, Michel criticized Israel's military action in Gaza, which he said violated international humanitarian law.
"I was really shocked by what I saw in Gaza," Michel told reporters in Tel Aviv. "Even if I am fully concerned for the security of the people of Israel, I can not accept that the response was so disproportionate."
Israel, he said, had to know that by bombing targets in heavily populated areas that "there would be innocent victims."
Michel told Sderot Mayor David Buskila that he understood that the rockets which had targeted his city made it very difficult for the people to live there and that the attacks against innocent people were "unjustifiable."
Still, he said, as a democracy Israel has a higher level of responsibility in this situation.
Michel's harsh words for Israel did not mollify Hamas, however, which was angered by his comments.
Hamas official Mushir al-Masri was quoted by Reuters as saying his group was "shocked" at Michel's comments.
He lambasted the official for "giving cover to massacres and terrorism committed by the Zionist enemy against the Palestinian people... Palestinian resistance is as legitimate as the resistance of European countries that fought against foreign occupiers."
AP contributed to this report.