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EU Discusses Gaza, Unveils New Aid Plan for Palestinians

The EU said it would consider sending its monitors back to Gaza's border with Egypt, and unveiled a new plan for getting aid to Palestinians following a meeting of foreign ministers on Monday, Jan. 28.

Palestinians clash with Egyptian border guards and riot police at the Rafah crossing

Egyptian border guards and riot police try to stop the influx of Palestinians

European Union foreign ministers expressed deep concern about the chaos on the Gaza Strip border with Egypt, calling for "continuous provision of essential goods and services, including fuel and power supplies." Ministers also called on Israel to "fulfill its obligations to Gaza."

Several hundred thousand Palestinians have swarmed into Egypt in the six days since militants blew up barricades at the Rafah border, Gaza's only crossing with Egypt. EU monitors would only be redeployed if Hamas can offer assurances that they will not be at risk, officials involved in the talks said on Monday.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the EU needed to encourage Israel "to do all that is necessary to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches the population of Gaza."

Revamped aid system to launch on Friday

At the same time, EU officials said they would launch a revamped foreign aid system called PEGASE, which would channel financial assistance to Palestinians from Friday, Feb. 1.

"The EU is strongly committed to supporting the Palestinian Authority's reform and development priorities," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a statement. "[The new system] will provide greater stability and predictability to our action as the largest donors to the Palestinians."

PEGASE, the French name of Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology, will replace the current Temporary International Mechanism (TIM) of foreign aid to the Palestinian Territories. TIM was set up in June 2006 following the election of the Hamas government as a way to channel aid to Palestinian citizens without intervention from Hamas.

This year alone, the EU has pledged some 325 million euros ($477 million) in aid through the PEGASE system, designed to support health care, education and development projects.

Palestinian protesters gathered outside the EU's headquarters in Brussels on Monday spoke out against the launch of the new system, saying the EU should be focusing on politics as a means to end the Israeli occupation, and not giving financial support.

"The humanitarian situation is disastrous, but the EU should act at a political level, not turn into a big charity," Arafat Shoukri of the London-based Palestinian Return Center told the German dpa news agency.

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