EU expresses 'grave concern' at Israeli attacks on Gaza

The European Union has expressed its "grave concern" at Israel's continuing attacks on the Gaza Strip that have killed close to 300 Palestinians and injured around 900, calling the airstrikes "unacceptable" and urging both sides to halt military actions.

France, in one of its final acts as the outgoing chair of the EU's six-month rotating presidency, in a statement said the 27-country bloc "condemns the disproportionate use of force" of both parties to the conflict.

"There is no military solution in Gaza," the communique continued, urging the "re-opening of all checkpoints and the immediate resumption of fuel and humanitarian aid deliveries."

On Saturday (27 December), Israeli warplanes and helicopter gunships launched attacks against police stations, civilian houses and medical centres in the Gaza Strip. Israel says the actions are in a retaliation for Palestinian rocket and mortar fire on regions in the south of the Jewish state.

The Wednesday ahead of the assault, around 70 Palestinian rockets hit Israel over a 24-hour period.

Palestinian officials estimate that the bombings have killed 285 Palestinians and wounded some 900 individuals.

EU foreign relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner "expressed grave concern at the ongoing Israeli military air strikes in the Gaza Strip," and "called on all sides to exercise the utmost restraint and ...return immediately to the ceasefire."

The bloc's chief diplomat, Javier Solana, also said that the attacks were "inflicting an unacceptable toll on Palestinian civilians," and called on Tel Aviv to re-open Gaza border crossings.

Mr Solana added that the EU was "ready to resume its monitoring mission" at the Rafah checkpoint.

Both sides criticised

If the emphasis was on the Palestinian deaths, EU leaders were however careful to criticise both Israeli and Palestinian actions.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy separately expressed his "great concern" at the violence. Having spoken with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of Hamas rival al Fatah, the French leader denounced "the provocations that led to this situation as well as the disproportionate use of force."

UK foreign minister David Miliband used similar language, saying that he and Prime Minister Gordon Brown were following the situation with "grave concern."

Mr Brown had also said Israel should "do everything in its power to avoid civilian casualties."

According to German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, the country's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, meanwhile placed blame for the renewal of conflict with Hamas and its decision to end its truce with Israel, calling on the group to "immediately and permanently stop the insufferable rocket attacks on Israel," while urging the Jewish state to maintain "proportion" in its actions.

Finnish foreign minister Alexander Stubb, said: "Finland condemns the escalation of violence in Gaza and urges the parties to calm down the situation. Finland is particularly worried about the rapid deterioration of the civilian living conditions in Gaza.

"The Israeli air strikes have demanded a disproportionate amount of civilian victims and they must end immediately," he added. "Simultaneously Hamas and other extremist groups must immediately cease their rocket attacks. The parties must reinstate the truce without delay."

Meanwhile, having spoken to his counterparts across Europe, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said: " Europe has a role to play," to de-escalate the violence, noting that the assault on Gaza has occurred while there is both a "vacancy of power in Israel and the US."

Israel is heading into general elections, while the US awaits the inauguration of president-elect Barack Obama.

Mr Kouchner spoke to Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Abul Gheit on Saturday (27 December). The French foreign minister hopes to encourage Cairo in its attempts to relaunch the peace process between the two belligerents.

"The Egyptians are capable of restarting the peace process, we must help them," said the French minister.

In June, Egypt managed to broker a six-month ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. Israel however resumed its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

According to the United Nations, as a result of the blockade, Gazans receive running water once every five to seven days and food supplies are dangerously low. UN operations in Gaza ran out of food two weeks ago for the first time in 60 years, according to the Times of London, which also reports that families are eating wild grass for nourishment.


The president of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, also condemned both sides, but underscored that the "massive Israeli reaction which killed more than 270 people and injured hundreds, is an escalation that is totally disproportionate."

"A life of a Palestinian has the same value as the life of an Israeli," he said.

Protests against the Israeli attacks have kicked off across Europe, with thousands demonstrating in London, Paris, Madrid and elsewhere.

Large rallies also took place in Turkey, a candidate for EU membership. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday called Israel's actions a "crime against humanity."

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