Israel should ease its Gaza blockade further and allow Palestinians to resume exports from the territory, the European Union's foreign policy chief said on Sunday (18 July) during a visit to the Hamas-controlled enclave.
"The position of the EU is very clear: that we want the opportunity for people to be able to move around freely or to see goods not only coming into Gaza but exports coming out of Gaza," Catherine Ashton told a news conference.
Israel relaxed its land blockade of the Gaza Strip, where its Islamist Hamas enemy rules, after an international outcry over its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla on 31 May. But it still bans exports from the territory.
Ashton said she would discuss the issue later in the day with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"At the moment, there is no proposal on the table to open a port," she said. "The best option seems to be, and that is the most supported by Palestinians, is to open the land crossings, and that's what we're working on."
In Gaza, Ashton visited UN facilities and was due to meet local businessmen. She had no plans to see leaders of Hamas, which the EU and the United States regard as a terrorist organisation.
In a press release following her meeting with Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, Ashton is quoted as saying:
"Israel's new policy should improve the lives of the ordinary people of Gaza while addressing the legitimate security concerns of Israel. The position of the EU is clear: the blockade is unacceptable, unsustainable and counterproductive. It is not in the interests of any of those concerned."
"If we can be of value and the parties agree, the EU is ready to support a smooth handling of goods at the crossings, based on to the Agreement on Movement and Access. I fully agree that Israel's security is of paramount importance in moving ahead," Ashton further said.
Speaking in a school and summer camp in Gaza run by UNRWA (The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), Ashton said:
"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. In particular, to allow the people of Gaza to run their businesses, to grow their own economy and in that sense to be able to offer a future to their children.”
"Improving the economic situation in the Gaza Strip is not simply a matter of letting in aid – it is a matter of revitalising the local economy with private sector development and commercial activity, including exports," Ashton is quoted as saying in a press release.
It was her second visit to the Gaza Strip in four months.
(EURACTIV with Reuters.)