Middle East

Gaza crisis tops EU agenda at ministerial meeting

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (L) and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr speak to the press during a ceremony where the European Union signed an agreement with Egypt in Cairo on November 14, 2012. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI

BRUSSELS: The European Union's foreign policy chief is expressing concern about the mounting death toll in the Gaza conflict, saying the crisis can only be resolved with a long-term solution.

Speaking at the start of a meeting of EU foreign and defense ministers in Brussels on Monday, Catherine Ashton said rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel must stop.

"What we have to do is to find ... a solution that brings security to the region," Ashton said.

Israeli forces are attacking Gaza in an effort to stop the militant rocket fire, and scores of Palestinians and three Israeli civilians have been killed in the conflict.

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt said the most important thing was to arrange an immediate ceasefire.

"Then, we must look at the wider and deeper issues," he said. "This is the second Gaza war in a few years. We can't wait for the third and fourth."

The EU ministers also are to discuss how to deal with Syria's new opposition coalition, which France has recognized. Other EU members prefer to wait and see whether the coalition truly represents the variety of people that make up Syria before recognizing it.

Ashton said none of the ministers has proposed that the EU should recognize the new coalition.

Ministers also are scheduled to discuss how to provide military assistance to the West African force that is scheduled to help Mali's tenuous government wrest control of the country's vast north that was seized by al-Qaida-linked fighters more than six months ago.

Ecowas, the Economic Community of West African States, has agreed to send about 3,300 troops to reinforce the 5,000 Malian government troops. The U.S. and EU could provide logistics and air support for the operation.





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