Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, is assessing the humanitarian situation in the Middle East, in the context of a five day visit to the region. In a speech on the humanitarian dimension of the Middle East Peace Process, delivered today at a conference in Jerusalem, the Commissioner underlined the need for all parties involved to respect the core element of international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians.In particular, he recalled the need to ensure access to the victims of conflict, and urged all parties to respect the humanitarian space.

"I am more and more worried by the constant infringement of international humanitarian law", said the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, just a few weeks before the 40th anniversary of the occupation of the Palestinian territory. "In many countries, international humanitarian law is not only ignored but often flouted by belligerents. Instead of conventional wars, internal conflicts have become the norm. Such conflicts always affect mainly civilians. For humanitarian workers, it is an ever-growing daily challenge. Access to victims is often difficult and insecurity is rampant. Sometimes it is impossible for humanitarian workers to do their job and they themselves are coming under attack more often. This is unacceptable", stated Louis Michel.

The conference 'Moving the Middle East Peace Process forward: Humanitarian Challenges,' held today in Jerusalem, gathers the main humanitarian actors in the region, including donors from EU member States.

The EU is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance in the region. In 2006, the EC Humanitarian aid department funded €84 million of humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable Palestinians. For 2007, the Commission Humanitarian Aid department will allocate €60 million, aimed at responding to the most urgent needs of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

This conference comes at the close of a three day visit by the Commissioner to Israel and the Palestinian territory. During his meetings with the

Israeli and Palestinian authorities, Mr Michel reiterated the EU's support to the peace process and European solidarity towards the victims of the ongoing conflict in the region.

Mr. Michel will leave today to Jordan and Syria where he will visit humanitarian projects funded by the Commission Humanitarian Aid department.