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EU to Israel: Lift Gaza Blockade

  • Meredith Buel

The European Union is calling on Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip as Middle East envoy Tony Blair reports that Israel has agreed in principle to allow more humanitarian supplies into Gaza. That news came Monday as a top U.S. Naval officer expressed concern about reports that Iran might send ships to the Mediterranean Sea to break the blockade.

Middle East envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been holding discussions with Israel and other countries in an effort to convince the Jewish state to ease its blockade of Gaza.

After a meeting Monday with European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg, Mr. Blair said he hopes to have rules in place for what goods are allowed into Gaza very soon.

"I hope we are now in a position to move forward in this way, first of all, and most importantly, that whilst Israel will maintain the blockade in respect of weapons and combat material coming into Gaza, that we change the situation so that those goods that are necessary for ordinary civilian life are brought into Gaza as a matter of course," said Tony Blair.

On Monday, Israel's cabinet approved an "independent public commission" to investigate last month's deadly raid on an aid flotilla headed to Gaza.

Israeli commandos killed nine pro-Palestinian activists on board one of the ships.

Israel says they were acting in self-defense after being attacked by activists wielding clubs and knives.

Since the raid, Israel has been under intense pressure to allow more commercial and humanitarian supplies into Gaza.

Envoy Tony Blair says he believes Israel is ready to ease the blockade as long as its security concerns are met.

"In the conversations I've had with the Israeli prime minister, I think there is now, in principle, commitment by Israel to move to such a list," he said. "The prime minister throughout has always drawn this distinction between keeping weapons out and allowing goods necessary for ordinary civilian life in."

Israel closed the border with Gaza after the militant group Hamas seized power in the territory in 2007.

Israel wants to keep militants from obtaining weapons such as rockets that have been fired on civilians inside the Jewish state.

Israel hopes the negotiations on what Palestinians call the siege of Gaza will result in the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Gaza-based militants in a cross border raid in 2006.

Mr. Blair called for Shalit's immediate release.

"It would be an even greater boost forward for this process if Gilad Shalit, who remains in captivity, were released," said Blair. "He should be released and he should be released unconditionally. That would also help."

Also Monday, the U.S. Commander of the 6th Fleet, Vice Admiral Harry Harris, told reporters at the Pentagon that he is concerned about reports that Iran might send aid ships to break the Israeli blockade.

HARRIS: "Well, the concerns are you might have more violence, you might have more loss of life. It is hard to predict what would happen if that comes to pass."

BUEL: "What would the U.S. Navy do if this does happen?"

HARRIS: "I am not going to talk about what we might do or what we could do."

Admiral Harris said the United States has significant naval forces in the Mediterranean Sea. Harris added that he and other top military officers are watching the situation closely and that the U.S. Navy has sufficient assets to handle any contingency.