EU offers money to Gaza, help in countering arms smuggling

Other News Materials 26 January 2009 17:30 (UTC +04:00)

The European Commission announced Monday that it was providing 58 million euros (74.3 million dollars) in humanitarian aid to vulnerable Palestinians this year, as EU foreign ministers met to discuss ways of helping Israel counter arms smuggling destined for Hamas into the Gaza Strip.

In a statement, EU Aid Commissioner Louis Michel said around 32 million euros would be earmarked for Gaza, which suffered massive damage during a three-week bombing campaign by Israel, reported dpa.

An additional 20 million euros are to go to the West Bank, with the remaining 6 million destined for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

"Destruction on such a massive scale saddens me deeply," Michel said during a fact-finding visit to the Gaza Strip.

"This funding package of 58 million euros will contribute substantially to the international effort on behalf of these suffering people and will also sustain our ongoing solidarity with the entire Palestinian population," Michel said.

EU foreign ministers, meanwhile, were holding talks in Brussels on how to ensure that the fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hamas holds.

Ministers were expected to call on Hamas to halt its rocket launches, ask Israel to reopen border crossings into Gaza and discuss an "effective mechanism to prevent the smuggling of arms and ammunition" to the strip, diplomats said.

France on Friday announced that it was dispatching a helicopter- carrying frigate to the Gaza coast, while Britain has said its Royal Navy would also be prepared to help.

Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Brussels that his country would send five experts with special equipment to help Egypt discover the tunnels allegedly used to smuggle arms into Gaza.

However, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said in Brussels late Sunday that most of the arms smuggling was taking place by sea and not through his territory.

Abul Gheit was attending talks with EU foreign ministers and counterparts from the Palestinian Authority, Turkey, Jordan and Norway as part of a diplomatic push by the EU to make its voice heard in the region.

On Wednesday, EU diplomats held separate talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who insisted on the need to stop weapons being smuggled into the strip.

EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana has also offered to redeploy monitors which used to patrol the Rafah crossing between 2005 and 2007. dpa nr wjh