The EU's foreign aid chief visited Gaza on Monday and condemned its Islamist rulers Hamas for acting like "a terrorist movement", while criticizing Israel's offensive and appealing to the Jewish state to let in more aid.
Louis Michel was among the most senior foreign officials to visit the enclave since Hamas seized control in 2007 and, though Hamas is officially classed a terrorist group by the EU and other Western powers, his comments were especially pointed, days after an Israeli offensive that killed some 1,300 Palestinians.
"Hamas has an enormous responsibility for what happened here in Gaza," said Michel, the humanitarian aid commissioner, as he stood in a UN aid compound damaged by Israeli shelling.
He echoed Israeli criticisms that Hamas used civilians as "human shields" by fighting in populated areas and, describing Hamas rocket fire on Israel as a "provocation", he said in English: "Hamas is acting in the way of a terrorist movement."
Hamas said it was "shocked" at his comments.
Michel, a former Belgian foreign minister, said that, in line with EU policy, he did not meet Hamas officials, most of whom have remained out of sight since fighting ended a week ago.
The European Union is the biggest donor to the Palestinians and Michel announced a further 58 million euros in humanitarian aid for 2009, of which 32 million euros would go to Gaza.
Speaking of the Israeli bombardment, he criticized the destruction of factories and other economic infrastructure: "What I saw was abominable. It was unjustified," Michel said.
He called on Israel to open its crossing points with the Gaza Strip "massively", to let in not only food and medicines but materials required for reconstruction.
Israel denies entry to supplies such as cement and steel piping, saying that these can be used by Hamas for military ends. Israel has also defended its military tactics in Gaza, saying they were appropriate for warfare in congested areas. A Hamas official, Mushir al-Masri, criticized Michel.
"It was shocking to see a European official giving cover to massacres and terrorism committed by the Zionist enemy against the Palestinian people," he said.
"Palestinian resistance is as legitimate as the resistance of European countries that fought against foreign occupiers."
Michel, who said both sides should be held accountable for breaches of international law, said: "When you kill innocents, it is not resistance. It is terrorism."