Spain to EU: End Gaza blockade

European Union pressures Israel to lift blockade on Gaza.

Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Mahmoud Abbas 311  (photo credit: AP)
Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Mahmoud Abbas 311
(photo credit: AP)
European leaders 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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Spanish Prime 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.
Zapatero said 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 released.
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 in Gaza.”
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.”
“Why 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.
“A similar 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.
But they did not address many of the technical problems inherent inopening 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 accommodatecargo ships. In addition, the agreement under which EUBAM operates isbetween Fatah and Israel and involves the placement of Fatah on thePalestinian side of the crossings. Hamas is not interested in havingFatah 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 inJerusalem to drum up support for Israel’s right to continue its navalblockade of Gaza by which it searches and halts ships heading there soas 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 quantityand variety of goods heading into Gaza by land. It has, however,insisted it does not intend to allow a full revival of the Gazaeconomy, because such a move would only strengthen Hamas.
AP contributed to this report.