The crisis in Gaza will not be resolved so long as (kidnapped IDF soldier) Gilad Shalit remains in Hamas' hands, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told a press conference Wednesday night after a three-hour meeting with her European counterparts in Brussels, Belgium to discuss the smuggling of arms into the Hamas-controlled territory.
The top Israeli diplomat said she regretted the loss of civilian lives in Gaza but blamed Hamas gunmen for operating from highly populated areas. She called the war against Hamas, which both the US and the EU view as a terrorist organization, a "war against terror, not against Palestinians."
The EU foreign ministers met in Brussels to declare their intention to contribute units, vessels, and technological means in order to curb weapon transfers from Iran to Hamas.
Livni said the international community understands that the need to act against the (smuggling) threat is mutual, adding that during the meeting it was agreed that Israel and the European Union would work together towards this end.
According to the agreement, the EU countries will come onboard the deal signed between outgoing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and FM Livni over the weekend.
The move would see the EU directing its members to undertake actions that would contribute to the anti-smuggling efforts. Each European country will then earmark some resources in order to fight the smuggling.
In his conversations with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah, US President Barack Obama said he would join the effort to thwart the arms smuggling in Gaza and will work with the PA to rebuild the coastal enclave.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama "emphasized his determination to work to help consolidate the cease-fire by establishing an effective anti-smuggling regime to prevent Hamas from rearming," and by working with Palestinian leadership to help create "a major reconstruction effort for Palestinians in Gaza."
Gazans repairing damaged tunnel (Photo: AFP)
In his phone calls, Gibbs said, Obama pledged that his government would do its share to make those efforts successful and work with international partners "as they fulfill their responsibilities as well." The White House described the calls as warm in nature.
Earlier, the European FMs stressed that a reopening of border crossings was a key precondition to halting the flow of smuggled goods, including arms, into Gaza via a network of tunnels.
"There is no solution to the Gaza crisis without opening up the borders," said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. "Human beings being what they are, they will dig tunnels out of desperation."
Karel Schwarzenberg, the Czech foreign minister and the meeting's chairman, said at a joint news conference after the three-hour meeting that Livni reassured the EU that "everything will be done from the Israeli side to have an effective humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip."
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the talks produced a "strong" discussion at which the Europeans insisted Israel must make it possible for humanitarian aid to reach Palestinians in the stricken Gaza are.
"It's absolutely necessary to say we need to open the borders. We (the 27 EU nations) were all united in that," said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
The last Israeli troops left the Gaza Strip before dawn Wednesday.
Meanwhile, officials in Jerusalem postulated that the government will soon have to decide on whether to release hundreds of Palestinians in exchange for Shalit.
Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, is scheduled to leave for Cairo Thursday in order to meet with head of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleiman to discuss Shalit and the joint effort to halt smuggling activity on the Egypt-Gaza border.
Most cabinet members, including Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak believe Israel will be left with no other choice but to release the prisoners, but a few ministers are against giving in to Hamas' demands.
The army backs Olmert and Barak's position.
News agencies contributed to the report