EU Envoy Visits Gaza, Shuns Hamas
Gaza City, Gaza Strip. The European Union’s top diplomat visited the Hamas-run Gaza Strip on Friday and voiced support for efforts to end the schism between the militant group Hamas and their Western-backed, secular rivals, Fatah.
In his first trip to the enclave since Hamas took it over in 2007, Solana met UN officials and Palestinian community leaders. But he maintained an EU policy boycott by avoiding contacts or meetings with Hamas rulers.
A dozen Palestinian factions including Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah began reconciliation talks in Cairo on Thursday to try to agree by March 20 on a unity government.
A deal could lead to the lifting of Israel’s blockade of the coastal strip and boost Abbas’s peacemaking efforts with Israel.
Solana said the European Union would await the outcome of the talks before taking a position. A group of former foreign ministers this week said it was time to break with past policy and start talking to Hamas.
Solana was cautious in his comment on the proposal, stressing that reconciliation must come first.
“It is just a first step,” Solana said. “Let’s see what happens, but in principle, as the people in Cairo know very well, we are supporting that process.”
The United States, Israel and the European Union shun dialogue with Hamas, citing its refusal to renounce violence, to recognize Israel and accept past peace agreements.
Hamas leaders maintained their rejection of the demands.
Solana said the EU and the United States would attend a Western donors’ conference in Egypt next week that would seek to raise some of the $2.8 billion estimated as needed for reconstruction in Gaza, following Israel’s 22-day offensive.
Part of the aid would be spent on removing unexploded ordnance and rubble, helping traumatized children, funding work schemes and providing shelter, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a statement.
More than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the fighting which ended on Jan. 18 with a shaky truce. But there have been incidents almost daily ever since, with rockets fired from Gaza into Israel and Israeli air strikes.