EU may send troops as Israel signals acceptance


EU:European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana has said that the union would consider taking part in an international force in Gaza amid escalating factional violence in the territory.

Following contacts with Palestinian leaders yesterday and a new willingness on the part of Israel to accept a multinational force, he floated the possibility of an EU role. "If we are asked, of course we will consider that possibility," Mr Solana said. "We are in that part of the Gaza Strip already: we are responsible for the crossing of Rafah."

The EU border mission in Rafah contains about 70 personnel who monitor the volatile border between Gaza and Egypt. However, following the recent outbreak of serious fighting between Palestinian factions, Israel has said that it is now open in principle to accepting a larger international force in the southern part of Gaza.

Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert told visiting Dutch foreign minister Maxime Verhagen that the west "must act quickly" to change the situation in the Gaza Strip. His comments yesterday reflect a new openness in Israel to accept the deployment of international troops since last year's war between Israel and Hizbullah in Lebanon.

Israel pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005, but cross-border violence has continued, leading to renewed calls for the deployment of an international force. Last month, a United Nations special envoy to the Middle East called on Israel, the Palestinians and the United Nations to consider an international force for Gaza.

However, Mr Solana cautioned that it was still early days, and Egypt, which has responsibility for the border crossing, was not keen on a deployment of new forces. "It's open," he said, "and we will see how things evolve and what decision is taken by the important players - the Israelis, Palestinians and Egyptians."