x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Ashton visits Gaza to press for blockade easing

The European Union's top diplomat Catherine Ashton visits Gaza to assess the partial lifting of the four-year closures.

The European Union's top diplomat Catherine Ashton visits Gaza today to press for the further lifting of Israel's blockade on the Hamas-ruled territory. On her second visit to Gaza in four months, Baroness Ashton was due to assess the partial lifting of the four-year closures in the wake of a deadly May 31 raid on a Gaza aid fleet. "We've made it clear that we want to see the potential for the people of Gaza to live an ordinary life," Baroness Ashton said in the West Bank town of Ramallah on the eve of her visit.

"There needs to be an opening of the crossings for both people and goods to flow in both directions." She said the European Union was willing to send monitors to help operate the crossings, but they would have to have a clear role and work with the western-backed Palestinian Authority, which Hamas drove out of Gaza in 2007. "At the moment that is not something that is on the table," she said. Israel said it would begin allowing everything into Gaza except for weapons and dual-use goods during the international uproar that followed the bloody seizure of the flotilla and the killing of nine Turkish activists.

It said it would allow building materials into the territory but only for internationally-supervised projects and that its naval blockade would remain in place to keep the Islamist Hamas from importing military-grade rockets and other weapons. The European Union welcomed the changes but has pressed Israel to allow for freer travel and the export of goods manufactured in Gaza, where the near-collapse of the private sector has spawned 40 per cent unemployment.

* AFP