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Twenty-First Century Crusades?

Prediction 14:
Possible EU troop movements to Israel and/or the Middle East

Abbas wants EU peacekeepers in the Middle East
Valentina Pop

The president of the Palestinian Authority urged Europe to play a bigger role in the Middle East, renewing his calls for the presence of international peacekeepers and election monitors in the region after the Israeli war on Gaza, which he labelled a "war crime".

Speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday (4 February), Mr Abbas said the time had come for the international community to step in, detailing the suffering of Gazan civilians during the January offensive by the Israeli military.

"I would like to stress again our request for the sending of international forces in order to protect our people," he said.

"Until when will Israel retain a free hand to destroy the assets and infrastructure of our people?" Mr Abbas asked.

He also pointed out that some of the infrastructure destroyed during the three weeks of fighting was paid for by the European Union.

"We must not deal with Israel as if it is a state above accountability, above international law," Mr Abbas said.

The EU is unlikely to send peacekeepers, although it does maintain 40 monitors on standby in Israel, waiting to be redeployed to the Gaza border, from where they had been withdrawn in 2007 after a sectarian struggle broke out between Islamist Hamas and secular rival Fatah for control of the Palestinian Authority.

Mr Abbas said he is seeking a government of national reconciliation with Hamas so the two sides could work together for the sake of the Palestinian people, who are now split both geographically and politically.

Asked later what Hamas would think of a unity government, Abbas said he thinks they would support it.

"The national interest of Hamas is to achieve Palestinian national unity," he said. "The interest does not lie in a homeland in two parts."

Hans-Gert Poettering, president of the European Parliament, said Europe wanted to help both Israel and the Palestinians achieve peace.

Only a "government of national consensus" could ensure the unity of the Palestinian people. The European Union would be willing to work with such a government, prepared "to respect the basic principles of the peace process, to renounce violence and commit itself to peace negotiations with Israel," Mr Pottering said.

The president of the parliament said his institution wanted "a swift resumption of the peace negotiations" and stressed that "internal Palestinian reconciliation is a pre-condition for peace between Israel and Palestine."

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority announced on Wednesday a 465 million reconstruction programme for the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the programme would cover all Palestinian houses destroyed or damaged during Israel's offensive.

War crimes on both sides
"There are crimes, and people who committed those crimes have to be held responsible so that these crimes cannot be repeated," Mr Abbas said. "We are stretching out our hand for peace with Israel, but what was done were regretfully crimes of war."

He also criticised Hamas for bringing destruction to Gaza and said that the movement's leader, Khaled Mashaal, could be taken to court in another country for "drawing his people to this destruction."

Rights activists say Gaza's Hamas rulers and other Palestinian groups committed war crimes by targeting Israeli civilians with rockets. They also say Hamas' use of human shields, as alleged by Israel, would constitute war crimes.

Human rights organisations, including B'Tselem, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, emphasise that investigations will take months and concede few venues exist for any trials.

The International Criminal Court can only investigate if asked by the UN Security Council or an involved state that has recognised the court. Israel has never recognized its jurisdiction, and because only states can recognise the court, the Palestinians also have no recourse to the ICC.

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