Major European charity organizations urged EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton to visit Gaza during her West Bank tour and see the Palestinians’ plight for herself.
Ashton needs to "see for herself the devastating impact of (Israel’s) two-and-a-half year blockade of the strip on its civilian population," said a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including Christian Aid, CAFOD and Amnesty International UK.
The call comes after Israel prevented a delegation of European Parliament lawmakers in December from traveling to Gaza despite an initial approval.
The Hamas-run Gaza Strip suffered far more than 1,400 deaths and severe devastation in a 22-day military offensive Israeli launched on the impoverished coastal enclave late in December, 2008.
The war raised an international outcry against the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Israeli army during three weeks of air, ground and sea incursions.
Besides, the nearly 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza are suffering a gradual death as all border crossings into the populated coastal sliver remains sealed off by Israel.
Egypt’s refusal to open the Rafah crossing, the only terminal not in Tel Aviv’s control, actually leaves Gaza completely cut off from the outside world. Cairo also fills Palestinian cross-border tunnels with gas or water.
"Israel appears to want to stop the world from seeing what is going on in Gaza," said Janet Symes, Christian Aid’s head of the Middle East region, calling Ashton and EU ministers to witness the misery ordinary people are grappled with in blockaded Gaza.
"The EU cannot accept Israel’s ban on its senior representatives visiting Gaza to see how the millions of euros from European taxpayers are spent on vital humanitarian projects there."
UK director of Amnesty International Kate Allen also called for Ashton to use her "leadership role to forge a new EU consensus to secure an end to the blockade of Gaza," adding it was the time for the EU to voice its protest against the Israeli siege.
Scheduled to visit Israel on March 17, Ashton already drags behind a great deal of reproach for failing to rush to Haiti after January’s devastating tremor there and not attending a meeting of EU defense ministers last month.