ANN CAHILL: EU foreign ministers urge Israel to lift Gaza blockade

EU foreign ministers urged Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza, now entering its fourth year, but put off concrete proposals until their next meeting next month.

They reiterated their demand for a full independent inquiry despite the announcement by Israel of its own inquiry to include the former leader of the Northern Ireland Unionists and pro-Israeli, Nobel peace laureate Lord David Trimble.

Foreign Minister Micheál Martin who has been pressing the EU on the issue for some time, said the aid convey, in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turks, had changed things and there was growing international pressure for change.

But he warned against unrealistically raising hopes of ending the blockade in case the promise could not be fulfilled.

Mr Martin, the first EU foreign minister to visit Gaza, said it was important to get the logistics right that would increase the amount of goods getting to the 1.4 million population.

Israel, that is allowing in only about 114 products and banning goods such as vinegar, spices, toys and reconstruction materials including cement, is being pushed by the EU to draw up a short list of banned goods and to open several border crossings.

Mr Martin said that even with five lorries a day going in it would take the next five years for them to catch up with the supplies they need.

Less than 25% of the homes and infrastructure destroyed by Israeli bombing 18 months ago have been repaired. Middle East envoy, Tony Blair, who spoke to the foreign ministers in Luxembourg said they should start by rebuilding schools, hospitals, the water and sewage treatment systems.

Many of these buildings including libraries and a radio station, had been built with EU money but were destroyed by the mass bombing in which more than 1,200 Palestinians died including children.

The kicking of proposals to end the blockade to its next meeting in July was criticised by Oxfam. Their spokesperson Elise Ford warned: “If the EU and the rest of the international community don’t step up its efforts, the ongoing blockade will continue to destroy the Gazan economy and threaten attempts to achieve a just durable and inclusive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Their call for a full inquiry into the attack however stopped short of calling for an international inquiry with “credible international participation”, under pressure from the British and Dutch.

Mr Martin said that it was essential to have an international inquiry given that this was what the UN had called for and that the incident had happened on international waters.

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