Following the rejection by Israel of a ceasefire, the EU is urging Tel Aviv to open a humanitarian corridor in order to provide relief to the population locked in the Gaza Strip. "We call on Israel to open a humanitarian corridor in Gaza and allow humanitarian organisations free access to the territory," said the Czech EU Presidency in statement, released on 7 January. The crisis in the Middle East will top the agenda of the discussions of the 27 EU foreign ministers, who will hold an informal meeting on 8 January in Prague.

Confronted with Israel's determination to continue its Operation Cast Lead', launched on 27 December 2008 against Hamas, the EU is now focusing its diplomatic efforts on the humanitarian front. "There is a dire need in Gaza for basic supplies, including food, medicines, water and electricity," indicated the EU Presidency. Karel Schwarzenberg, the Czech foreign minister, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, both insisted on the need to give at least temporary access to Gaza to international aid workers during the final leg of their visit to the region, on 6 January.

The European Commission wants to make sure that its new aid package, announced on 6 January, will be channelled to the population. "One and a half million people are crammed into an area that is just over one percent the size of Belgium. They rely on supplies from outside for their survival and, with every day that passes, their situation becomes more desperate," said Louis Michel, the commissioner in charge of humanitarian aid. The EU's call echoes the concern...

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