x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Ashton calls for pressure on Israel to ease blockade

The European Union's foreign policy chief urges the international community to pressure Israel to take further steps to ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

TEL AVIV // Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, urged the international community today to pressure Israel to take further steps to ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip and allow Palestinians to export goods from the seaside territory. Ms Ashton, speaking at a briefing during her second visit to Gaza in four months, said: "The position of the EU is very clear: that we want the opportunity for people to be able to move around freely or to see goods not only coming into Gaza but exports coming out of Gaza." She later added: "What needs to happen now is continued international pressure to move forward." Israel's ban on exports from Gaza, part of a hermetic blockade it imposed on the enclave's land crossings, waters and airspace when it was taken over by Hamas in June 2007, has contributed to a severe crippling of the impoverished territory's economy. Ms Ashton said she would raise the issue with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, whom she is due to meet in Jerusalem later today. "At the moment, there is no proposal on the table to open a port. The best option seems to be, and that is the most supported by Palestinians, is to open the land crossings, and that is what we are working on," she said. Ms Ashton said that the EU was prepared to send monitors to help operate the land crossings between Israel and Gaza, but that they needed to have a clear role and work alongside the Palestinian Authority, which is run by the Fatah movement that was routed by Hamas from Gaza three years ago. During her visit, Ms Ashton was due to meet with local Gaza businesspeople, though she was not expected to meet with officials of Hamas, which is viewed by Israel, the United States and the EU as a terrorist organisation. vbekker@thenational.ae