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Europe

Europe Increase Pressure on Zimbabwe

The European Union has piled more sanctions on the regime of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in an effort to break his grip on power. Gaza and Guantanamo are also high on the agenda of Europe's foreign ministers.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe

Europe has harshly criticized Zimbabwe's regime

European Union foreign ministers extended a travel ban and asset freeze on around 60 people and companies allied to Mugabe on Monday, Jan. 26.

The ministers also expressed concern over the cholera outbreak ravaging the country, saying that it viewed the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe with "particular distress."

And they called for closer international cooperation to bring about democratic change in Zimbabwe and to crack down on the flow of illicitly-traded diamonds which provides Mugabe's regime with a financial lifeline.

Differences remain on Guantanamo

Guantanamo prisoner seen through a fence

Europe is under pressure to accept former Guantanamo detainees

It's been a busy few days for European Union foreign ministers, who are also grappling on whether to offer a home to released Guantanamo detainees who might face abuse if sent back to their country of origin.

The EU has said it will consider taking the detainees, but will leave the final decision up to individual member countries.

The EU has long called for the closure of the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and welcomed the decision by new US President Barack Obama to prepare the jail's closure on his first day in office.

"We have not received any demand from our American friends. This is an American problem that they have to solve, but we will be ready to help if necessary," the EU's top foreign policy official, Javier Solana, said.

So far, Portugal is the only EU member state which has said clearly that it will take in former detainees. Germany has welcomed Obama's promise to close the camp, but is still debating whether to take any of the prisoners. Britain, which has already taken in 12, has said that it will not take in more.

Ministers urge united Palestine

Palestinians inspect the damage at a building following Israeli military operations

More than 4,000 Palestinian homes were destroyed in the fighting

Over the weekend, the EU's foreign ministers met with Palestinians to try and lay the groundwork for a lasting peace in the region.

EU ministers said they want to see Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to forge a consensus government that will re-open border crossings and restart a Middle East peace process.

European leaders hosted Palestinian, Egyptian, Jordanian and Turkish officials on Sunday, Jan. 25, in Brussels. Europe hosted Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni last week and will send Solana to the Middle East on Monday in a bid to bolster the Gaza ceasefire.

"It is time for the Palestinians to start talking to each other," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said. "If we can't overcome the division in the Palestinian society, it will be very difficult to move forward both with Gaza and the peace process."

Israel launched an attack against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip on Dec. 27 which lasted 22 days, killing more than 1,300 Palestinians and wounded some 5,000 others. More than 4,000 homes were destroyed and 17,000 damaged. The assault's goal was to stop Hamas militants from firing rockets at Israeli civilians.

Hamas "essential to peace process"

Though the EU lists Hamas as a terrorist organization, some EU ministers say no peace can be achieved in the Middle East unless Hamas -- which governs the Gaza Strip -- is also brought into the equation. Europeans are concerned about the divisions between Hamas and the more moderate Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian militants stand with their weapons

Israel is concerned about weapons smuggling into Gaza

"The reunification of the Palestinian people with a single voice to speak to them, to speak for the West Bank and for Gaza is absolutely essential," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told reporters.

While Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister Riyad al-Maliki was in Brussels, Hamas officials holding parallel talks in Cairo insisted that they would continue smuggling weapons into Gaza. In the past, Hamas has smuggled arms through a network of tunnels under the Gaza border with Egypt. Israel claims are moving into the territory from Iran. On Sunday Egypt closed its Rafah crossing point with Gaza, fearing that Israel may renew its attacks on underground passage ways.

Yet European leaders were undaunted by the defiant stand from Hamas.

"What Europe wants is a consensus government (in the Palestinian territories)," said Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos. "We are not asking anything impossible from Hamas."

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