Summary: EU Commission and Presidency visit Middle East July 27-28 (26 July 2006: Brussels)
Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja and Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner will travel to the Middle East for talks with leading figures in Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon. They will be accompanied by EU Special Representative Marc Otte. The trip is a first opportunity for the EU to discuss with all sides the outcome of the international conference in Rome. On Thursday they expect to see Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. They will visit Gaza to witness the conditions on the ground for Palestinian civilians and to see the Temporary International Mechanism developed by the EU in action. On Friday the Minister and the Commissioner will go to Beirut to meet Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri and representatives of civil society. The visit will focus on the growing humanitarian crisis in both Lebanon
and Gaza, and underline the need to move towards an end to hostilities.
Representing the Finnish Presidency, Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said: "In the face of the worsening humanitarian situation as the hostilities continue there is increasing frustration in Europe at the lack of progress in achieving a cease-fire and coming to grips with the causes of the conflict. The EU has to show leadership and do its utmost to facilitate a return to peace. This includes a readiness to participate in a robust stabilisation force for Lebanon with a strong UN mandate. It is also essential to underline, that there can be no sustainable peace in the Middle East and security for the people living there without a commitment to a peace process that will put an end to the occupation as outlined in the Road Map with a viable independent Palestinian state living in peace with Israel."
On the eve of the visit, Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner said: "The outbreak of violence in the Middle East has brought tragic consequences to both sides. The suffering of civilians in Lebanon as well as Israel is unacceptable. The killing must stop now and we call for an immediate cessation of hostilities. We need to roll back the escalation of the past two weeks, without returning to the status quo ante. I look forward to discussing with all partners how to create the conditions in which a durable ceasefire could take hold. The proposals made by the UN Secretary General including a stabilisation force point the way forward to an end to this growing humanitarian crisis". She added "The EU is doing everything in its power to support civilians caught up in the conflict, but money alone cannot solve the problems. We need secure access in and out of Lebanon, and a land corridor, with safe passage for those trying to help the most vulnerable".
The EU is extremely concerned at the situation in the Middle East, in particular the deteriorating humanitarian situation, the damage to civilian infrastructure and the loss of civilian life on all sides.
The EU condemns the taking of hostages, and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of those being held. There should be an immediate end to rocket attacks on Israeli towns and cities.
The EU recognises Israel's right to self-defence, but urges Israel to excerise utmost restraint and fully respect its obligations under international humanitarian law.
This trip is an opportunity to underline the EU's support for the Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. UN security council resolutions 1559 and 1680 must be implemented in full, including the disarming of all militias.
The EU is making a very significant contribution to alleviating civilian hardship at this difficult time. €359 million has been announced already this year to support the basic needs of the Palestinian people, and action is underway under the Temporary International Mechanism developed by the EU, to deliver fuel to power generators for hospitals and water plants in Gaza.
In addition to contributions by the EU Member States the Commission is mobilising a package of €20 million in emergency humanitarian assistance to Lebanon, and is planning further funding in response to the UN appeal. The approval of the budget authority (European Parliament and Council of Ministers) is required for this and the Commission is moving quickly to submit a formal request for the funds to be released. The aim is to increase the overall amount available to €50 million.
The European Commission is announcing today €11 million to assist in the evacuation of third country nationals.
Safe access for humanitarian agencies is essential. The EU urges all parties to fulfill their obligations under International Humanitarian Law.
For more information:
The EU's relations with Lebanon: http://ec.europa.eu/comm/external_relations/lebanon/intro/index.htm
The EU's relations with Israel:
The EU's relations with the West Bank and Gaza Strip: