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EU Envoy Criticizes Israel During Gaza Visit

  • Robert Berger

Europe's top diplomat has criticized Israel during a visit to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton visited war-torn Gaza, a month after Israel eased its crippling land blockade. She said it is not enough.

"The position of the European Union is very clear, that we want to see the opportunity for people to be able to move around freely, to see goods not only coming into Gaza, but exports coming out of Gaza," Ashton said.

Israel came under intense pressure to ease the three-year-old blockade following its deadly commando raid on an aid flotilla trying to sail to Gaza seven weeks ago. Nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed, sparking international outrage.

Since then, Israel has allowed all food and some building supplies into Gaza. But Israel bans most exports from Gaza because it is ruled by Hamas, a Palestinian militant group that is at war with the Jewish state. In addition, the naval blockade on Gaza remains in force.

At the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Israeli officials said Ashton is not taking Israel's security concerns into account.

"It is in the best interest of everyone who does not want to see a new round of violence in the area, to make sure that no weapons and no ammunition get to the Hamas government in Gaza," Cabinet Minister Yuli Edelstein said.

Palestinian business leaders in Gaza told Ashton that the economy cannot recover unless Israel allows shipments of all raw materials. But Israel bans supplies like fertilizer which can be used for explosives and cement which can be used for bunkers and military infrastructure.