The European Union pledged €3 million ($4.6 million) in emergency aid to the Gaza Strip on Sunday as a high-level EU delegation left for the Mideast in a diplomatic push for a ceasefire.
The EU said food, emergency shelter items and medical supplies were urgently needed by Palestinians in Gaza and the aid would be deployed as rapidly as possible," a statement said.
Britain and France, meanwhile, warned that Israel's ground offensive marked a dangerous escalation of the conflict.
And the Czech Republic, which took over the 27-nation EU's presidency on Jan. 1, urged Israel to allow humanitarian relief aid into Gaza. The EU delegation left Prague on a 3-day tour that will include Egypt, the West Bank and Israel. The delegation includes EU foreign policy Chief Javier Solana and the foreign ministers of France and Sweden.
"It is absolutely necessary that the violence has to stop," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said at Prague airport before the delegation boarded their plane.
Schwarzenberg said the EU aims to "open ways for humanitarian aid" and negotiate conditions for a cease-fire.
EU Development Affairs Commissioner Louis Michel said Sunday that with every passing day, the situation for Gaza's 1.5 million people was becoming more desperate.
"They rely on supplies from outside for their survival." Michel said. "I call on the Israeli authorities to respect their international obligations ... for the delivery of vital relief.