Ashton blames Hamas for Gaza crisis
by Daniel Mason
The European Union's foreign policy chief has condemned the latest violence between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza that has led to civilian deaths on both sides – and pinned the blame for the crisis on Hamas.
High Representative for foreign and security policy Catherine Ashton said she was "deeply concerned at the escalating violence" and deplored the loss of civilian life.
According to the BBC, Israel hit at least 130 targets last night while 11 rockets were fired from inside Gaza. It reported that some 18 Palestinians, including five children, and three Israelis have lost their lives since Wednesday, when Israel killed Hamas military leader Ahmed al-Jabari in a precision air strike on his car.
Israel said it was responding to increased attacks from Gaza. The Israeli government has authorised the draft of 30,000 reservists and of those the military said it would call up 16,000, raising fears of a ground offensive.
"The rocket attacks by Hamas and other factions in Gaza which began this current crisis are totally unacceptable for any government and must stop," Ashton said in a statement. "Israel has the right to protect its population from these kinds of attacks." But she urged Israel to be "proportionate" in its response.
She spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon and the office of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, and "stressed the need to prevent a further escalation".
"I made the point that we must move forward in finding a solution to the Middle East conflict so that millions of people in the region can finally live in peace and security," she added. She followed the United Kingdom's foreign secretary William Hague, who also said Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, should take "principal responsibility". Meanwhile the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Wednesday.
Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil visited a hospital in Gaza and said: "This tragedy cannot pass in silence and the world should take responsibility in stopping this aggression."
Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, called on Israel and Hamas to "show maximum restraint and to avoid any further loss of life". He said civilians were paying the "highest price" in what he described as a "vicious circle of attacks and retaliations".
"The EU rests committed to a two-state solution with Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace and security," the German parliamentarian said. "I call on the two sides to refrain from belligerent and counter-productive rhetoric and go back to the negotiating table."
Véronique De Keyser MEP, vice-president of the parliament's Socialists and Democrats group, said that "both the firing of rockets into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip and extrajudicial killings by the Israeli army" should be condemned. She said it was unacceptable that civilians were "becoming again hostages and victims of politically driven violence".
The European United Left/Nordic Green Left went further in its criticism of Israel, saying the killing of Jabari amounted to a "provocation" that was "re-igniting tensions".
Group leader Gabi Zimmer MEP said: "The international community's silence enabling Netanyahu to continue to defy international law and to bomb women, men and children in the Gaza Strip."
UK's 'vested interests' in supporting Israel
The British establishment's argument that Israel is acting in self-defence is a cynical smokescreen concealing their vested interests in derailing the peace process, argues Steve Rushton