Europe: Czech minister defends Israeli strikes

Prague, 30 Dec. (AKI) - The Czech Republic, which assumes the European Union's presidency this week, on Tuesday defended Israel's military strikes against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

As the European Union called for a ceasefire to end the violence that has killed more than 350 people and injured 1400 others, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said Israel had the right to defend itself.

"Let us realise one thing: Hamas increased steeply the number of rockets fired at Israel since the cease-fire ended. That is not acceptable any more," Schwarzenberg told the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes.

France, which will hand over the EU's rotating presidency to Prague this week, has criticised Israel's strikes. President Nicolas Sarkozy condemned what he called "the irresponsible provocations" and the "disproportionate use of force".

The European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, called for an immediate end to military action that it said had a heavy impact on the civilian population in Gaza. It also called for a halt to the rocket attacks targeting Israeli civilians. 

The EC is providing urgent medical support in Gaza in addition to ongoing support.

The Commission's Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) is currently providing more than 73 million euros in humanitarian assistance to the West Bank and Gaza and half that amount is allocated to Gaza.


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