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Israel ready to soften blockade on Gaza: EU

Israel is ready to soften its blockade on the Gaza Strip by opening up two land crossings into Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory, European Union (EU) diplomats said today.

world Updated: Jun 14, 2010 16:30 IST

Israel is ready to soften its blockade on the Gaza Strip by opening up two land crossings into Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory, European Union (EU) diplomats said on Monday.

Israel has been under increasing international pressure to reverse its embargo policy since late May, when its navy raided a flotilla bringing in aid to Gaza, killing nine activists.

"All indications are that they are willing to loosen their policy of blockade," an EU diplomat said in Luxembourg, where the bloc's foreign ministers were set to meet with Middle East envoy Tony Blair.

"My hope is that changing the way the blockade is operated will give a boost to the overall process," Blair, the former British prime minister, told the BBC ahead of the meeting.

While he understood that Israel would continue to draw a "red line" on its blockade of weapons supplies to Gaza, the delivery of items for "daily life" should become a "matter of course".

"The key distinction is...between the measures necessary to stop arms coming into Gaza and allowing goods for ordinary daily life, and to rebuild the infrastructure of Gaza and to allow legitimate business to operate," he said.

"I hope very much we can build on that distinction over the next few days and get a change in policy in the way we need."

Sources say that "within weeks" Israeli authorities could be willing to open the Karni and the Keren Shalom land crossings and soften the blockade by allowing all goods to flow into Gaza except those detailed in a "negative list".

Israel currently blockades Gaza, allowing in only goods specifically mentioned in a "positive list".

The Israeli move is expected to be supported by the EU in either logistical or financial terms. However, a proposal supported by France to let the EU monitor shipping directed to Gaza is not likely to pass, diplomats said.

"There is no need for flotillas," said Blair, adding that goods could reach Gaza through "normal crossings".

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the bloc was "looking at being able to put a team in there to try and support...what I hope that the Israelis are doing to open the crossing".