European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana toured the war-shattered Gaza Strip on Friday, as the EU announced that it would donate $553 million in aid to Gaza. Solana's trip is the first of its kind since the Islamist Hamas seized power in the Palestinian territory in June 2007.
"I came to Gaza to see by myself the situation and the destruction and to show the solidarity to the good people of Gaza who have suffered so much," he said at a news conference.
"I wanted to see with my eyes the level of destruction," he said of the devastation wrought by Israel's 22-day military offensive that killed more than 1,330 Palestinians.
He viewed the ruins of the American International School and the wasteland of Ezbet Abed Rabbo, where scores of Palestinians huddle in shanties erected on mounds of rubble that used to be their homes.
His visit came ahead of an international conference in Egypt on the rebuilding of Gaza. "I hope the meeting that will take place on Monday will be a good meeting with good consequences for people here," said Solana.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere was on a similar visit to Gaza on Friday, touring areas hard hit by the Israeli offensive which ended on Jan. 18.
Neither Solana nor Stoere were due to meet any representative of Hamas, which the European Union, Israel and the United States consider a terrorist organization.
"We have not had any meeting with Hamas at the political level since June 2007," said Norwegian foreign ministry spokesman Haakon Svane.
The Islamist movement seized power in the Gaza Strip in June 2007, ousting forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
I wanted to see with my eyes the level of destruction
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana
EU aid to Gaza
The European Commission earlier announced that it would donate 436 million euros ($553 million) in aid to the conflict-torn Gaza Strip at an international donors conference next week.
"By offering a substantial aid package we confirm our generosity and commitment towards the Palestinians," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a statement.
The commissioner is to pledge the funds, for this year, on Monday at a donors conference in Egypt aimed at helping rebuild Gaza.
The European Union is the biggest donor of funds to the Palestinians, providing more than half a billion euros each year, but it holds little political influence over Israel.
The Palestinian Authority said that it will seek $2.8 billion to rebuild Gaza, even as Israel warned of another military strike if arms smuggling into the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave continues.
"We will dedicate part of our assistance to early recovery after the conflict at the beginning of the year, notably for urgently needed removal of rubble and unexploded ordinance and for providing assistance for traumatised children," Ferrero-Waldner said.
The funds will also be used to back a "cash for work" scheme and repair shelters damaged during Israel's attack on Gaza.
More than 70 countries are expected at Monday's meeting in the Egyptian coastal resort of Sharm El Sheikh.
By offering a substantial aid package we confirm our generosity and commitment towards the Palestinians
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner