Sunday

25th Aug 2019

Ashton calls on Israel to open border crossings to Gaza

  • Reconstruction in Gaza is scarcely possible due to the blockade (Photo: zoriah)

On her second trip to the Middle East, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called on Israel to open border crossings to Gaza and fully lift the "unacceptable" blockade imposed on the Palestinian territory.

"There are small signs of change in policy to allow goods into Gaza, but we continue to call for the opening of the crossings to enable people and goods to move around," Ms Ashton said on Sunday (18 July) while visiting a UN school in Gaza. She pledged an extra €2 million from the EU budget for schools and NGO work in Gaza.

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Her return to the region, only four months after her first visit there, was aimed to "show EU support" and press the Israeli authorities on lifting a four-year blockade imposed on the Gaza strip.

Speaking after a meeting with Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, the British peer welcomed the recent ease of the blockade as "an important step forward," but stressed that the EU continues to see the embargo as "unacceptable, unsustainable and counterproductive."

Following the deadly attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla on 31 May, Israel bowed to international pressure and started allowing a wider range of goods into the territory, with the exception of weapons and 'dual-use' items. It has also agreed to let construction materials into Gaza, as long as they are destined for projects under international supervision. But exports are still banned and people cannot move freely over the border.

Israel is also not willing to lift the blockade on Gaza's ports, arguing that the maritime embargo is needed to prevent the Islamist Hamas movement from shipping in military-grade weapons and long-range rockets.

Ms Ashton said she could envisage sending EU monitors to the crossings to "support a smooth handling of goods", as long as the Western-backed Palestinian Authority was also involved.

On Saturday, the EU official also met the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad, to whom she pledged an extra €40 million as "direct financial support."

"What we have today is 75 percent less (volume of traffic) than what we had in the first half of 2007... That's not what we are looking for," Mr Fayyad said, according to AFP.

"The economy of Gaza cannot be sustained only by importation, there needs to be exports," he stressed.

Ms Ashton's second visit to Gaza and Israel "showed a preparedness to be more independent-minded," former British cabinet minister and EU commissioner Chris Patten told the Guardian on Sunday, during his own visit to the region.

"The default European position should not be to wait to find out what the Americans are going to do, and if the Americans don't do anything to wring our hands. We should be prepared to be more explicit in setting out Europe's objectives and doing more to try to implement them," he said.

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