The EU has failed to convince Israel to stop its offensive in the Gaza Strip, despite intense diplomatic pressure applied by the Czech Presidency and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who both toured the region from 4 to 6 January. "Europe must open its eyes. We are not in the business of public relations or improving our image. We are fighting against terror, and we have every right to defend our citizens," said Israeli President Shimon Peres, on 6 January in Jerusalem. He was replying to an EU delegation led by Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and his Swedish and French counterparts, Carl Bildt and Bernard Kouchner, representing the upcoming and former Presidencies of the EU, who have urged the interruption of Operation Cast Lead', which has already killed more than 500 Palestinians. In defiance of the Europeans' ceasefire call, the Israeli army has stepped up its offensive.

"Israel's image is being destroyed," warned Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the commissioner for external relations, who was also part of the delegation, alongside Javier Solana, the EU's diplomatic chief. They met Egyptian authorities in Sharm-El-Sheik, on 4 January, before visiting Jerusalem and Ramallah, on 5 January. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni indicated that the Israeli army would only stop its offensive against Hamas once all Israeli objectives are met. Tel Aviv wants to "change the equation" in the region, said the foreign minister, stressing that Hamas should not be any more in a position to attack Israel's territory.


The EU delegation disapproved this approach and reaffirmed the need for an immediate ceasefire. "We are not sharing the view that a ceasefire is only possible if all aims of the Israeli actions are achieved," said Schwarzenberg. Prague, which has just taken the reins of the EU on 1 January, has toughened its language against Tel Aviv, under pressure from its European partners. On 3 January, the Presidency had described the Israeli action as "defensive," triggering a wave of criticisms. The next day, Prague rectified its official statement to make it more balanced. Improving EU-Israel ties was originally one of the priorities of the Czech Presidency...

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