EU foreign, defence ministers meet under shadow of Gaza conflict

EU foreign, defence ministers meet under shadow of Gaza conflict

European foreign and defence ministers called for a ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and Gaza Monday, as they met in Brussels for talks also focusing on the situations in Syria and Mali.

Swedish Defence Minister Carl Bildt said the EU demanded an "immediate ceasefire," while adding that it was necessary to establish "a peace process worthy of the name."

"If we just stop and then just count the dead bodies and then go on as if nothing had happened, then we are preparing for the next round of fighting," he said.

"I'm very concerned about the loss of life," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. "But I've also been saying consistently for a long time that we need to find a long-term solution to Gaza."

Ministers were also due to discuss the violence in Syria, amid expectations that Turkey will ask NATO to deploy Patriot surface-to-air missiles along its border with Syria.

"I expect there to be a request today from the Turkish government," said German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere.

Germany, the Netherlands and the US are the only three NATO members to own Patriot missiles.

"This is about a precautionary and defensive measure on NATO territory only," de Maiziere stressed. A report in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper at the weekend said Germany had already decided to deploy the missiles but was awaiting a formal request by Turkey.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is also expected at the morning's meeting of European Union defence ministers.

Their discussions are to include progress on sending a military training mission to Mali in order to help Bamako resume control over the north of the country that has been taken over by Islamist rebel groups.

The day's talks are also to include developments in the Democratic Republic of Congo, after Ashton called Sunday for the M23 militia group to "immediately stop the military offensive against the city of Goma."

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