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Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner is visiting the Palestinian Territories and Israel on 16th and 17th January. During her visit she will meet President Mahmoud Abbas, with whom she will review the situation in the West Bank and Gaza in the run up to the elections scheduled for 25th January. With the elections only 10 days away, the Commissioner will take the opportunity to meet representatives of the EU Election Observation Mission which is already active on the ground. Another main focus of her trip will be the contribution that the EU is making to reconstruction of Gaza following Israel’s disengagement. The Commissioner will also meet acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to express Europe’s concern for the health of Prime Sharon, to review bilateral relations with Israel, and prospects for the peace process after the Israeli and Palestinian elections.
Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner said: “This is a testing moment for leaders in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. Neither the situation arising from Mr Sharon’s illness, nor the challenges to law and order in the Gaza strip, should distract them from the goal of seeking peace. I hope the elections due on both sides in the coming months help create new impetus in the peace process”.
She added: “The Palestinian legislative elections are an important milestone on the road to democracy and should go ahead on schedule. We welcome the decision yesterday by the Israeli cabinet to facilitate voting in East Jerusalem. To build confidence in these polls we are once again deploying the biggest international team of election observers. EU support to the Central Elections Commission has been crucial, and without it, the holding of these elections would not have been possible”.
The EU Election Observation Mission, led by Veronique de Keyser MEP will number 237 observers in all. The EU has built reputation for professional and consistent assessments of polls around the world. The presence of observers should help to build confidence in the electoral process and encourage Palestinians to exercise their democratic rights.
During the trip the Commissioner will:
· announce a €3 million package including €1.5 million package to fund equipment including x-ray machines, metal detectors, and computers plus training for border staff responding to needs identified to manage the Rafah crossing, and €1.5 million for training and equipment to improve the standard of Palestinian customs services – which is essential to creating the secure and well-managed borders which are vital for the restoration of free movement of goods and people.
· announce decisions to launch over €20 million worth of projects under the Gaza Infrastructure Facility (€40 million) for the improvement of basic services including waste water, solid waste and electricity.
· inaugurate recently completed public works projects in Gaza, including road resurfacing. Though the current security situation makes working conditions more challenging, the EU is continuing to deliver tangible benefits to the ordinary lives of Palestinians living in Gaza.
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