EU may send naval mission towards Gaza: Ashton

Yahoo! News (Link) - AFP (June 16, 2010)

The EU may send a naval mission towards Gaza to help control the transit of goods if Israel lifts its blockade of the Palestinian territory, the bloc�s foreign affairs chief said Wednesday.

Catherine Ashton said there may be a �maritime option for a CSDP (Common Defence and Security Defence Policy) mission,� adding however that such an option would be �more complex� than helping monitor land crossings into Gaza.

Israel has come under increased pressure to lift its blockade, which has been in place since 2007, after a commando raid on an aid flotilla bringing aid for the Gaza Strip last month left nine Turkish activists dead.

Israel�s security cabinet on Wednesday met to reportedly consider an international proposal for significantly easing its blockade on Gaza, but the closed-door meeting ended without any conclusion.

British peer Ashton, who visited Gaza earlier this year, stressed that �what happened on the seas outside Gaza was unacceptable.�

She called on the Israeli government to allow humanitarian aid, commercial goods and civilians to �enter and exit Gaza normally,� with only arms and other goods �where Israel has legitimate security concerns,� prohibited.

Ashton added that the EU border mission at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which has been largely inactive since 2005, �could be reactivated� and Europe is ready to support the opening of other land crossings.

�The blockade hurts ordinary people, prevents reconstruction and fuels radicalism� and �empowers Hamas,� the Islamist group which controls the Gaza Strip, she said.

She said it was also partially ineffective, as goods are smuggled in illegal tunnels and get to �those with money and clout.�

However she admitted that �it will not be easy to find an agreed way to lift the blockade.�

Also at the EU parliament pro-Palestinian groups announced that they plan to send another aid flotilla for Gaza next month, similar to the one involved in the deadly Israeli attack.