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EU envoy lays Gaza blame on Hamas

Louis Michel on his trip to Gaza
Louis Michel is touring the Gaza Strip to assess the humanitarian needs

A senior European Union official touring war-torn Gaza has blamed the ruling militant movement Hamas for the humanitarian crisis there.

Humanitarian aid chief Louis Michel called the destruction left by Israel's offensive "abominable", but said Hamas bore "overwhelming responsibility".

He said there would be no dialogue with the "terrorist" movement until it gave up violence and recognised Israel.

He also announced emergency aid for Gaza worth more than US $70m (50m).

US President Barack Obama, meanwhile, dispatched his new Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, on his debut mission to the region having briefed him to engage "vigorously" to forge "genuine progress" in peace talks.

Sick of paying

Touring some of Gaza's worst-hit areas of Israel's 22-day assault which killed about 1,300 Palestinians, including 400 children, Mr Michel described the situation as "abominable, indescribable".

"At this time we have to also recall the overwhelming responsibility of Hamas," he said.

CONFLICT IN FIGURES
More than 1,300 Palestinians killed
Thirteen Israelis killed
More than 4,000 buildings destroyed in Gaza, more than 20,000 severely damaged
50,000 Gazans homeless and 400,000 without running water

"I intentionally say this here - Hamas is a terrorist movement and it has to be denounced as such."

Thirteen Israelis were killed in the conflict, and Mr Michel later visited the southern Israeli town of Sderot, the target of Palestinian militant rocket fire.

There, he called on Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza and accused both sides of violating humanitarian law.

"Please open the crossings, you have to broaden the range of products that you let in," he urged Israel's authorities. "We, the EU, condemn Qassam attacks and military options which target the civilian population."

The former Belgian foreign minister insisted there would be no dialogue with Hamas, saying its use of terrorism against Israeli civilians meant it was not a legitimate resistance movement.

Some aid agencies have expressed doubts about how effective a reconstruction drive in Gaza can be without the involvement of Hamas, which controls the territory, says the BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Gaza.

Announcing the extra aid, Mr Michel said people in the EU were sick of paying for the same infrastructure being destroyed over and over again in Israeli military action.

The EU is the main donor to the Palestinians, having given three billion euros since 2000, Mr Michel said.

"Every year, we spend 600 to 700m euros. Today we decided on a supplementary payment of 60m euros."

'Reinvigorate process'

US envoy George Mitchell is to visit Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia during a week-long tour, with European stops including Paris and London, said state department spokesman Robert Wood.

Aid delivery in Gaza
Relief agencies urged an opening of crossings so more aid can reach Gaza

He said Mr Mitchell would meet "senior officials to discuss the peace process and the situation in Gaza".

It remained unclear whether Mr Mitchell would travel to the Gaza Strip.

Separately, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he was heading to the Middle East to join efforts to cement a permanent cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.

He said he would spend a week in the region, starting with meetings with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Tuesday.

Israeli and Palestinian faction representatives have visited Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials since a non-negotiated ceasefire came into effect on 18 January.

Hamas wants an end of Israel's punishing blockade of Gaza.

Israel, which will hold a general election on 10 February, wants a long-term ceasefire and curbs on Hamas rearming.

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