BRUSSELS (AFP) — European Union foreign ministers meet Sunday with counterparts from the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey to study ways to get Arab nations behind new Middle East peace moves.
At talks in Brussels, from 1700 GMT, the ministers will assess the state of the ceasefire Gaza, where more than 1,300 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since last month, and look at ways to improve the flow of aid.
But beyond the immediate help needed by Gaza residents, the EU wants to try to use Israel’s war on Hamas to kick start long-stalled efforts to bring peace to the region, and foster an agreement between the feuding Palestinians.
“We want to talk to the four of them about how do we get the region behind a meaningful peace process. We need the broader support of the Arab world,” an EU diplomat said ahead of the talks.
“Some of those countries are bridges to other countries in the Arab world or the Muslim world, like Syria or Iran,” the latter accused of supplying arms to Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, he said.
Some 5,300 people were also wounded in Israel’s land, sea and air assault, Operation Cast Lead, launched on December 27 in the impoverished coastal strip to stop Hamas firing rockets at Israeli civilians.
Around 4,100 homes were destroyed and 17,000 damaged.
Israel lost 10 soldiers and three civilians.
The talks follow an EU meeting Wednesday with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, where the front-runner for elections on February 10 pledged to ensure that aid would flow back into Gaza.
They will also be followed by a meeting of the EU ministers alone in Brussels Monday, to take stock of progress and discuss how the EU might help bolster the ceasefire, ensure aid and move toward helping Gazans rebuild.
The EU is the biggest aid donor to the Palestinians — offering some half a billion euros annually in recent years — but the 27-nation bloc has little leverage over Israel.
In an effort to build on the week-old ceasefire, the EU is offering to boost its monitoring mission at the Rafah Terminal on the border with Egypt, the Palestinians’ only door to the outside world.
Diplomats have said the bloc would be willing to do more if the political and security conditions are in place, by putting personnel on other crossing points into Gaza, currently blocked by Israel, where more goods could enter.
The EU is also looking at ways to prevent the smuggling of arms — which Israel claims are moving into the territory from Iran — and some nations are prepared to help by moving resources to the Red Sea, or the Mediterranean.
France said Friday that it was sending a frigate carrying a helicopter to international waters off the coast of Gaza to participate in a mission against arms trafficking.
The French warship will conduct “surveillance in international waters off Gaza, in full cooperation with Egypt and Israel,” the French president’s office said.
Britain and Germany have also offered to help prevent arms smuggling, as part of measures to shore up the fragile truce.