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EU Approves Humanitarian Aid for Palestinians

Lisa Bryant

The European Union approved new humanitarian aid to the Palestinians Friday, as leaders of the 25-member block ended a two-day summit in Brussels. The meeting also tackled issues like the stalled European constitution and expansion.

The European Union's new emergency aid package for the Palestinians amounts to about $126 million. An EU spokeswoman told reporters in Brussels it will be paid through a new funding mechanism that starts operating next month, and will bypass the Hamas government.

Both the EU and the United States suspended aid to the Palestinian territories, through normal mechanisms, as long as Hamas refuses to renounce terrorism, embrace the peace process and recognize the state of Israel. Israel also suspended customs and tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority. Many Palestinians - along with their government - are now having a hard time making ends meet.

Earlier this week, Israel's new prime minister, Ehud Olmert, toured Europe to drum up support for Israel's planned withdrawal from much of the West Bank. But the idea got a cool reception.

During a news conference in Brussels Friday, Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik of Austria, which holds the rotating EU presidency, called instead for dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians.

"We have always expressed our reserves about unilateral measures that might endanger such a negotiated solution. And this is the line of the European Union. There is no intention to change it," she said.

European leaders also delayed plans to revive the European constitution, which was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands last year. But they remained optimistic on another issue - admitting new members in the future. Still, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters that Turkey's potential membership was particularly problematic.

"It would be completely wrong to contend that this is not a huge challenge. But I said it in a positive way. Because, if you want to succeed, you have to make an effort - on the European side, but also on the Turkish side," he said.

European leaders expressed concern about reported remarks by Turkish Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdogan. On Friday, Mr. Erdogan apparently rejected opening Ankara's ports to shipping from the divided island of Cyprus, if there were no concessions for Turkish Cypriots. The EU has made trade with Cyprus and other members a precondition for possible membership.

Another summit takes place in Austria next week between the EU and President Bush. European officials say they will raise their concerns about the Guantanamo prison camp during those talks.

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