20th Nov 2019

Five EU foreign ministers to visit Gaza after Israel eases blockade

  • Border crossings to Gaza are allowing more items (Photo: Wikipedia)

The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain will visit Gaza following Israel's ease of the blockade imposed on the Palestinian territory, a move backed as a "significant step forward" by the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

The five ministers sent a joint letter to Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, accepting his invitation to visit Gaza, the Italian foreign ministry said Monday (5 July).

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The trip will take place "in strict co-ordination" with the Palestinian Authority, which lost control over the enclave in 2007, when the militant Islamist group Hamas was elected, prompting Israel to impose a full-scale blockade on the territory.

Allowing the European dignitaries into the Palestinian territory is a rare gesture from the Israeli government, with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon being the only recent exceptions.

Israel's policy towards Gaza has come under considerable international and European pressure after Israeli commandos boarded a ship carrying humanitarian aid for Gaza in an attempt to break the blockade, and killed nine Turkish citizens. The Jewish state has since eased the embargo, replacing an allowed items list with a prohibited items one, making import of consumer goods – for instance washing machines and mattresses - and food more accessible.

Ms Ashton on Monday praised the ease of the blockade as a "significant step forward" which "should improve the lives of the ordinary people of Gaza."

Her remarks were echoed by former British prime minister Tony Blair, the special Middle East envoy of the 'Quartet' of the UN, EU, US and Russia, who said that Israel's measures "should have a dramatic influence on the daily lives of the people of Gaza and on the private sector".

However, Israel continues to ban most travel and exports and restricts the import of construction materials, which are badly needed after scores of buildings were levelled down in the winter of 2008, during its military raids over Gaza.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was due to meet President Barack Obama on Tuesday – a "make-up" visit after the previous one was marked by a chilly reception from the White House in the wake of a perceived afront to vice-president Joe Biden when an announcement of further illegal settlement construction in East Jerusalem was made during his visit to Israel.

Mr Netanyahu is expected to assure Mr Obama he wants to upgrade indirect talks with the Palestinians to direct negotiations, a move Washington sees as vital to the goal of creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

"I am ready to meet (Palestinian) President (Mahmoud) Abbas today and tomorrow and the next day at any place," Mr Netanyahu said last week.

His visit to the White House was originally scheduled for 1 June, but was scrapped after the attack on the aid flotilla.


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