Rassegna Stampa Elezioni Israeliane 2009

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German minister to present proposals on keeping cease-fire in Middle East

Posted by claudiacampli su 26 gennaio, 2009

IHT

By Judy Dempsey

Published: January 25, 2009

BERLIN: Wanting the European Union to play a more active role in the Middle East, the German foreign minister on Monday will present to his EU counterparts proposals to strengthen the fragile cease-fire that Egypt brokered last week between Israel and Hamas, along with ways to rebuild the infrastructure in Gaza as soon as possible.

But the suggestions by the minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, which have won support from Britain, France and other nations, makes no mention of what policy the EU should adopt toward Hamas, the Palestinian faction that controls Gaza, or how the bloc can play a bigger security role in the region given the opposition by Hamas, Egypt and Israel to international forces on their territories.

Steinmeier’s report also does not call specifically for the opening of the crossing routes between Israel and Gaza, one of the key demands that Hamas made over the weekend as it held talks in Cairo with Egyptian intelligence officials.

Instead, his proposal states that ministers should explore “a possible EU role with regard to the opening of Gaza-Israel crossing points.”

The five-point proposal – whose general details Steinmeier discussed with Egyptian and Israeli officials when he was in the region 10 days ago, as well as with Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief – focuses on humanitarian action as well as the prevention of illegal weapons trafficking through tunnels from Egypt to Gaza, the opening of some crossings, reconstruction and the resumption of the peace process.

EU foreign ministers were meeting Sunday night in Brussels with their Palestinian, Egyptian, Jordanian and Turkish counterparts to discuss ways in which the peace process could be resumed.

But from previous experience, the bloc knows that it is the United States that plays the main role in the region while the Europeans, as so often in the past in the Middle East conflict, have been called upon to finance reconstruction efforts or play a limited mediating role. Indeed, EU and Middle Eastern governments are anxiously waiting to see what President Barack Obama will do now that he has appointed former Senator George Mitchell to be his special Middle East envoy.

On the question of humanitarian aid, Germany wants EU foreign ministers to send a fact-finding mission to Gaza for restoring electricity, water, sewage and medical services as quickly as possible, in coordination with United Nations agencies and the International Red Cross. No mention has been made about the mission’s role with Hamas.

Germany also wants the EU to assist in the training of security forces and to provide “necessary specialized equipment” for preventing weapons trafficking through the tunnels.

August Hanning, the German deputy interior minister, said last week that Egypt had already requested detection equipment and technical assistance. He said Berlin was prepared to send four border police experts and equipment.

German officials acknowledged, however, that increasing security at the Gazan-Egyptian border would not in itself end the smuggling. It is also not certain that Hamas would give the EU a security role on the Gaza side.

Steinmeier’s proposal further says that even if part of the Gazan-Egyptian border crossing at Rafah were to be reopened, it should be through “coordination with Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Israel.”

Hamas has repeatedly said that it does not want the Palestinian Authority, which controls only the West Bank, back in Gaza after it was expelled two years ago. That aside, the German proposal suggests that the tunnels – which are also used for sending food, water and other necessities into Gaza – have created a flourishing trade at Rafah.

The socioeconomic problems in trying to close the tunnels completely are immense, said a German diplomat who was involved in writing the proposal.

“If you really try to close the tunnels, it would mean a huge loss of income for the local communities, where there is very high unemployment,” said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment officially.

“We want to find ways to establishing training programs and alternative incomes for the communities living on the Egyptian side.”

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