The EU foreign policy chief says a mission will be sent to the Gaza Strip to find initiatives to end the "bizarre" situation created by the Israeli blockade of the territory.
In a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France on Tuesday, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton also condemned the Israeli attack on a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip on May 31.
"Let me stress at the outset: what happened on the seas outside Gaza was unacceptable. We said so immediately, loud and clear," Ashton said.
"Nine people died in international waters under circumstances that demand an inquiry. This must be an inquiry that Israelis, Palestinians and above all the people of Turkey can believe in. Israel has announced the creation of an independent commission with the participation of two senior international members as observers. This is a step forward. But the EU will follow closely the conduct and findings of the commission before drawing further conclusions," she added.
"The military attack on the flotilla has captured the world’s attention. The loss of life has been tragic. But we need to remind ourselves why the flotilla was heading for Gaza in the first place. That underlying cause is the terrible plight of Gaza, which is now back on people’s radar," Ashton noted.
"I have seen it myself, three months ago, as the first politician allowed to enter into Gaza from Israel for more than a year. What I saw was shocking," the EU’s top diplomat stated.
"The blockade denies Gaza the bricks and cement which the UN needs to build new schools, hospitals, housing and sanitation. It is a bizarre situation where flour, beans and margarine are allowed in but vinegar, chocolate and fresh meat are not," she said.
"First, we need to open the crossings so that humanitarian aid, commercial goods and civilians can enter and exit Gaza normally. This is in line with our well established position and Security Council resolutions," Ashton added.
"Second, instead of a list of a very restricted number of products that are allowed in, there should be a short, agreed list of prohibited goods where Israel has legitimate security concerns," she said.
"Third, the EU has people and a mission in Rafah that could be reactivated. And we are ready to support in the opening of other land crossings for goods and people, recalibrating our mission or developing a new one," the EU foreign policy chief explained.
"I have created a task force to bring together all the relevant departments and expertise (I will chair its first meeting on Friday). We will send an exploratory mission shortly to see how we can best contribute to a solution that works for the people of Gaza while addressing the concerns of Israel," Ashton stated.
"The wider issue here is that a lifting of the blockade should help to bring peace. Gaza is an integral part of the future Palestinian state. So we need to work on reunifying the West Bank with Gaza in the same way that we must help the reconciliation of the Palestinian people," she said.