Gaza: Baroness Ashton should visit Gaza, says group ahead of EU meeting

Baroness Ashton to visit region in mid March.

The EU’s foreign ministers and its High Representative for foreign affairs Baroness Ashton must insist on their right to visit Gaza, say 17 European human rights and development organisations (1) on the eve of the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Córdoba, Spain on 5-6 March.

The groups are calling on foreign ministers to take a united stance not to bow to Israel’s recent practice (2) of refusing entry to Gaza by foreign high-level representatives, and to make going to Gaza part of every visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. They are, in particular, calling on Ms Ashton to visit Gaza on her first trip to the Middle East in mid March, to see for herself the devastating impact of the two-and-half-year-old blockade of Gaza on its civilian population.

During the informal meeting, EU foreign ministers will discuss the peace process in the Middle East and the blockade just over a year after Israel’s military offensive on Gaza. Homes, businesses, schools, hospitals and essential civilian infrastructure including water and power systems remain in ruins because Israel prevents construction materials entering Gaza, say the organisations.

The group welcomes the EU’s December statement calling for “an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of the crossings” into Gaza, but they say the EU must translate this into action by agreeing to take a strong international lead to secure an end to the blockade. The EU must also confirm that upgrading of its relations with Israel is on hold, pending tangible progress in Israel’s respect for human rights and international law, which should include its actions with regard to the Gaza blockade, they say.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
“Baroness Ashton should insist on entry into Gaza to see for herself what collectively punishing an entire population does to ordinary men, Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and Children's rights.


“We want to see her using her leadership role to forge a new EU consensus to secure an end to the blockade of Gaza. Now is the time for the EU to speak with one voice and say the blockade is totally wrong.”

Christian Aid’s Head of Middle East Region Janet Symes said:
“Israel appears to want to stop the world from seeing what is going on in Gaza. HR Ashton and EU ministers must go and see the plight of ordinary people in Gaza who are bearing the brunt of the blockade and are unable to leave. The EU cannot accept Israel’s ban on its senior representatives visiting Gaza to see how the millions of euro from European taxpayers’ are spent on vital humanitarian projects there.”

Notes for editors
(1) Amnesty International UK, Broederlijk Delen, CAFOD, CCFD Terre Solidaire, Christian Aid, Cordaid, Diakonia, Defence for Children's rights International, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, International Federation for Human Rights, ICCO, IKV Pax Christi Netherlands, Medical Aid for Palestinians, medico international, Pax Christi International, Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims, War Child.

(2) The Israeli government has justified its recent “no-entry” policy by saying that the presence of foreign high-level representatives would “give the Hamas regime legitimacy”. However, various EU foreign and development ministers, European Commissioners and the former EU High Representative Javier Solana all visited Gaza after the Hamas takeover in 2007, before the Israeli government started banning such visits. No meetings or contacts with Hamas took place on such visits. During 2009, such high-level visits have been stopped, with requests by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and the Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin to visit Gaza refused. The Irish Foreign Minister visited Gaza via the Rafah crossing from Egypt last week. The EU and its member states are providing several hundred million euro to Gaza every year, financing humanitarian aid, supporting vulnerable families, co-financing salaries of the Palestinian Authority employees in Gaza, supporting and co-financing UNRWA which is running schools and hospitals for Palestinian refugees who constitute over three-quarters of Gaza’s population.

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