EU suspends Gaza aid due to "suicidal" fighting

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission has suspended humanitarian aid to Gaza because of “suicidal” fighting among Palestinian factions and will only resume it if violence stops, the EU’s top aid official said on Thursday.

“The humanitarian situation is catastrophic, we have had to withdraw our (aid) operators,” European Aid and Development Commissioner Louis Michel told Reuters. “It’s dramatic and it’s unacceptable.”

“The belligerents must understand that this is suicidal,” he said of the fighting between the Islamist Hamas movement and the Fatah party for control of the Gaza Strip.

More than 80 people have been killed in five days of clashes, in which Hamas has largely wrested control from forces loyal to Western-backed Fatah President Mahmoud Abbas.

Last year, the European Union executive provided 84 million euros ($111.7 million) of humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territories and 60 million euros have been earmarked so far for this year.

Asked what it would take for the European Commission aid staff to go back to Gaza, Michel said: “Security.”

Western donors cut off direct aid to the Palestinian Authority in March 2006 after Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist or to renounce violence, defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections.

But the EU has increased humanitarian aid and remains the largest donor to the Palestinians, paying subsistence allowances to 150,000 families.

European External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a statement: “Since the formation of the national unity government in March 2007 we have stepped up our assistance to the Palestinians.

“Now is not the time to give up on national unity, both in the government and in the security sector. I call on both Hamas and Fatah to invest all their energy in this coalition.”

The Commission said it was the first time it had had to suspend all aid projects in Gaza.

The EU executive poured cold water on the idea of sending European peacekeepers to Gaza, saying no request had been received and any proposal would have to go through the United Nations and be agreed by potential troop-providing countries.