Voice Of America News (Link) - Lisa Bryant (January 22, 2009)
As the last Israeli troops left the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, European Union foreign ministers in Brussels urged Israel to lift its blockade of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian territory. The ministers met in Brussels with their Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni late Wednesday. The Europeans have sent official missions to the Middle East to seek a truce in the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The 27-member block is the biggest aid donor to the Palestinians.
Although a truce has been struck, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters the stakes are high in maintaining the cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which runs Gaza. "I would like to say the situation is still fragile, the ceasefire is fragile. And all the efforts have to be made to make it solid, to make it durable, to make it sustainable. I would like to say also it is very important that Gaza is open, that crossings are open and the help that the international community is willing to give can arrive to those in need," he said.
Mr. Solana said the European Union is committed politically to maintaining the cease-fire and committed economically to helping the Palestinians. He said the E.U. also wants to ensure a secure future for the Palestinians and for the Middle East peace process.
Palestinian medics say Israeli forces killed 1,300 Palestinians in the fighting. Thirteen Israelis were killed by Hamas rocket attacks on Israel.
The European Union says it hopes the new U.S. administration of President Barack Obama will breathe new life into the Mideast peace process. But the E.U. ministers downplayed the chance of discussions with Hamas in the near future.