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Israel should open Gaza crossings: EU

world Updated: Jul 19, 2010 09:48 IST
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Israel should allow exports from the Gaza Strip, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton said, as she toured the enclave on Sunday and said the EU would continue to demand that Gaza crossing terminals become completely operational.

Ashton called on Israel to allow exports from the Gaza Strip as she toured the enclave for the second time this year and said the EU would continue to demand that its crossing terminals become completely operational.

"We will keep pressuring for reopening the Gaza crossing points to improve the economical conditions in the Gaza Strip and make a better future for its population," she told reporters while visiting a UN school.

"I will be in Gaza again in a few months to make sure that the economy of the Gaza Strip is growing and improving."

After a meeting late Sunday in Jerusalem with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Ashton said that the new Israeli policy in Gaza is a "step forward" but that other decisions need to be taken by Israel.

Lieberman announced an Israeli plan to build a power station, desalination plants and infrastructure for water purification in the Gaza Strip, Lieberman said Sunday.

"These projects can resolve a real problem of drinking water and electricity and improve the situation," Lieberman said.

He asked for EU countries to help in the projects: "Israel is looking for serious partners" to improve the economic situation in the strip.

Israel last month relaxed its four-year blockade of Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamist Hamas movement. The easing came amid international pressure following the Israeli seizure of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May, which left nine Turkish activists dead.

While most types of civilian products are now allowed into the impoverished territory, Israel still prohibits the import of weapons or any materials that Gaza militias could use for weapons production.

Exports from the strip are still banned, and the movement of people is tightly monitored. The Rafah terminal, Gaza's sole crossing point to the Arab world, also remains shut - though Egypt does open it sporadically.

Ashton was the first EU official to enter Gaza since the blockade's partial lifting.

Sunday in Jerusalem, she expressed EU support for the US vision of a two-state solution in which "Gaza should take part" and announced that the EU is "examining the options" to help Palestinians in the control of the borders and Israel in security issues.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday in an interview with a Jordanian newspaper that he would be ready to enter direct negotiations if Israel accepted a third-party or international force to maintain security of the borders with the Palestinian state.

Ashton conveyed the EU's support for upgrading the current indirect peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians to direct dialogue.

"The time is right to move the talks in August," she said before meeting late Sunday in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ashton's three-day visit to the region is scheduled to conclude after her Monday meeting with Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.