EU Foreign Ministers to Discuss Israel's Blockade of Gaza, Flotilla Raid

In a draft declaration prepared for Monday's foreign ministers' meeting, the EU describes Israel's three-year-old blockade of Gaza as 'unacceptable and counterproductive.'

Middle East envoy Tony Blair will meet European Union foreign ministers on Monday to discuss Israel's blockade of Gaza and the fallout from the flotilla attack last month, the EU's foreign affairs chief said.

The European Union has joined international condemnation of the violence that accompanied Israel's assault on the aid ships on May 31, in which Israeli forces killed nine Turkish men after being attacked as they boarded one of the vessels.

In a draft declaration prepared for Monday's foreign ministers' meeting, the EU describes Israel's three-year-old blockade of Gaza as "unacceptable and counterproductive" - including to Israel's own security -- and calls for a "credible, impartial and independent" investigation of the incident.

Blair, a former British prime minister, is expected to brief the foreign ministers on the humanitarian situation in Gaza and discuss ways in which the EU could work with the Israeli
government to alleviate the pressure of the Gaza blockade.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton

"We have taken the view that that it is very important to have a credible investigation but also it's very significant that we are moving now towards trying to support ways in which we can see the (Gaza) crossings open," EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton told reporters as she arrived for the meeting.

"To that end I invited Tony Blair to fly in this morning and join us on behalf of the Quartet for that discussion," she said, referring to the four powers that monitor the Middle East peace
process: the United States, United Nations, Russia and the EU.

Blair told the BBC on Sunday he hoped to see movement in the next few days on easing the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israeli investigation

Israel said on Sunday it intended to hold its own investigation into the flotilla raid, saying it had taken the decision to hold it internally after consultations with the United States. An internal inquiry falls short of UN demands.

It is not clear whether the EU will be satisfied with an internal Israeli inquiry into the incident, which would include two foreign observers, although the United States welcomed Israel's move.

The EU's focus is more likely to be on how it can change Israel's blockade policy, which began shortly after Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and was greatly
increased after Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007.

Rather than Israel banning the entry of almost all goods to Gaza and its 1.5 million people, allowing only a few items, the EU wants Israel to adopt a policy of allowing most goods in and
banning some that could be used for militant purposes.

Israel says it maintains the blockade in order to prevent arms and other weapons being smuggled to Hamas and other groups.

The EU has said it would be prepared to contribute to a new mechanism to monitor the entry of goods into Gaza, both at land crossings on the Israeli and Egyptian borders with the coastal territory, and possibly shipments of goods from nearby Cyprus.