Accessibility links

EU, US Call for Progress on Mideast Talks

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton attends a meeting on External Action Service, at the European Parliament in Brussels (File Photo)

The European Union and the United States are urging officials to speed up progress toward a two-state solution in the Middle East - a "viable and sovereign" Palestine next to a "secure" Israel.

EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton said peace talks should focus on key issues, including Israel's "legitimate security concerns" and the Palestinians' "legitimate national aspirations."

Ashton spoke after meeting in Brussels Thursday with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who is heading back to the United States after a visit to the region.

Direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down after an Israeli moratorium on settlement construction expired in September.

Ashton called on Israel to follow the EU policy of immediately opening border crossings to allow humanitarian aid, goods and people into the Gaza Strip. She said Israel needs "to achieve a fundamental change of policy that allows for the reconstruction and economic recovery of Gaza."

Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade of Gaza since the Palestinian militant group Hamas seized control of the territory in June 2007. Critics say those tactics have prevented critical supplies from reaching residents of the coastal strip.

On Thursday, the U.S. and the European Union also repeated their call for the "immediate and unconditional" release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Palestinian militants in a cross-border raid in 2006.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

NEW: Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.