The European Commission has raised fresh concerns over Israel’s continuing closure of the Gaza Strip, which it says is preventing European humanitarian aid worth more than €34m from reaching the Palestinian territory.
According to an internal Commission document sent to EU member states last week, the tight Israeli restrictions on imports of goods and cash into the strip are doing both humanitarian and political damage. The paper points out that the lack of cash weakens western-backed bodies such as the Palestinian Authority, which is now regularly unable to pay salaries. The Islamist Hamas group, which controls the Gaza Strip, has no such problem because it can smuggle in bank notes through the tunnels linking Gaza with Egypt.
EU diplomats say the aid – fuel for the Gaza power plant and well as cash grants for needy families and civil servants’ salaries – was regularly allowed into the strip prior to the recent Gaza war. They also stress that the support is not intended to support the reconstruction of the war-ravaged strip – the subject of a separate controversy – but constitutes basic humanitarian relief.
”We conservatively estimate that €34.2m of such support which should have been delivered to beneficiaries in Gaza since Operation Cast Lead [the recent Israeli offensive in Gaza] started has not been able to be delivered, and instead is sitting in bank accounts gathering interest,” says the report, seen by the Financial Times.
The paper also bemoans the lack of response from Israeli officials, noting that the Commission wrote formally to the Israeli military seven times over the past year or so. Not once did Brussels receive a reply.
”We need a clear strategy to get movement on the Gaza dossier, as the status quo is not an option. More radical approaches from the IC [international community] may be necessary,” the Commission document says, suggesting Israel will face greater pressure from Europe and other donor countries in the near future.
European officials are set to meet with the Israeli foreign ministry and ministry of defence this week in a fresh bid to unblock the aid - €26.2m in cash and €8m in fuel so far.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said it was the government’s policy to allow “humanitarian aid, medical supplies and basic food commodities” into Gaza. He added that there was no cash problem in the strip: “I understand that there is sufficient cash in the Gaza Strip to meet the needs of the PA. If it’s not reaching the individuals then maybe Hamas should answer the question of where this cash is,” the spokesman said.
However, the Commission paper points out that Israel has let in only 225m Israeli Shekels since the Gaza war ended. It adds: “The approximate total value of the salaries due to PA [Palestinian Authority] employees in Gaza since the beginning of the year is 680m Israeli Shekels.”
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