EU foreign ministers divided on response to IDF's Gaza ops

Germany, UK, Czech Republic oppose public condemnation; Ireland, Sweden, Spain want to issue stern declaration to criticize actions.

Solana close 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Solana close 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
European Union foreign ministers were divided Monday over their response to Israel's military tactics in the Gaza Strip, which led to the deaths of 19 civilians last week. At talks in Brussels, diplomats said Germany, Britain and the Czech Republic opposed publicly condemning Israel in a statement meant to be issued by foreign ministers later Monday. Ireland, Sweden and Spain wanted to issue a stern declaration to criticize last week's Israeli military actions in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun. The attack, which Israel said was unintentional, led to widespread international condemnation. The United States, however, vetoed an Arab-backed UN Security Council resolution meant to condemn the Gaza offensive. An EU official said the EU ministers were to reiterate "very strong concerns" over the deaths of civilians, warning Israel to show "utmost restraint" in its military actions, which a draft statement says "should not be disproportionate and should not be contrary to international humanitarian law." The EU foreign ministers were also expected to reiterate their support for the efforts of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to form a unity government with the militant Hamas group. "At this point, I'm optimistic," said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana as he entered the meeting of the 25 foreign ministers. As they met, a senior Hamas official in Damascus confirmed that Hamas and Fatah had agreed on naming Mohammed Shabir to head the next Palestinian unity government. The EU ministers were to issue a declaration urging reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. Abbas had said Saturday he hoped a united government could be formed by the end of the month leading to an end of the international aid boycott imposed when Hamas took over the government in March. Such a united government, Solana said before the Hamas announcement, "would allow us to move the process forward. I hope very much that President Abbas is going to continue working in that direction." "I hope there will be also a new truce and that will allow the international community to be cooperating normally with the Palestinian authorities. Let's hope that that's the case," Solana said. The EU foreign policy chief was to brief the EU ministers on his trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories two weeks ago. After concluding his six-day tour of the Middle East, the EU's top envoy said he was more skeptical than ever about prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The EU ministers were also expected to extend their border assistance mission for the Gaza Rafah border crossing with Egypt for a further six months, after negotiations with Israel on a new agreement on how EU monitors will be able to work at the crossing. Solana has put pressure on Israel to ensure the crossing, which has been closed by Israel for the most of the past four months, soon will be reopened regularly. The Rafah passage, previously controlled by Israel, was handed to EU-supervised Palestinian control last year under a US-brokered accord. EU officials and diplomats increasingly fear that fighting between Fatah and Hamas supporters might lead to civil war in the Gaza Strip, which has suffered the brunt of the international boycott against the Hamas-led government.