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Armand De Decker: stepping up EU cooperation for the Gaza Strip

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Following his mission in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, the Minister for Development Cooperation, Armand De Decker, has written to his British counterpart Hillary Benn to suggest a quick meeting between Europe's international cooperation ministers to discuss strengthening and coordinating aid programmes for the Gaza Strip.

In Mr De Decker's opinion, "Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank, which is due to begin in August, can only make a significant contribution to the peace process if the international community implements support measures to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian population and ensure the economic development of the territories concerned."

In view of this, Minister De Decker suggests bolstering and coordinating Europe's support for the plan put forward by James Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank and the Quartet's Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement. "Without a rapid and substantial economic aid programme for Gaza, we can expect the situation in the region to deteriorate, which would run counter to the security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians."

Mr De Decker was in Israel and the Palestinian Territories between 2 and 6 July.

The aim of his mission was twofold: assess the state of Belgian cooperation with the Palestinian Authority ahead of the upcoming Joint Committee, and determine the extent to which Belgium could usefully contribute to the reconstruction of Gaza after Israel's withdrawal from the territory.

Mr De Decker met a number of high-level officials, both Palestinian (Deputy Prime Minister Nabil Shaath and the education, planning and energy ministers) and Israeli (Deputy Prime Ministers Shimon Peres and Ehud Olmert), as well as the Director of Operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Lionel Brisson, the EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process, Marc Otte, and representatives of the Wolfensohn team.

During his mission, Minister De Decker travelled to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Kufr Rai' (District of Jenin) and the Gaza Strip.

Three new agreements were signed with the Palestinian Authority for multiannual programmes to build seven new schools in the West Bank and Gaza (EUR 5 million), bring electricity to 11 villages in the West Bank (EUR 2.2 million) and boost the institutional capacity of the Palestinian Authority (EUR 1 million).

In consultation with the European Union, Mr De Decker intends to free up additional funds to help in the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, the aim being to improve living conditions for the Palestinian population thereby helping the security situation in Israel.