Gaza City: The European Union`s top diplomat
Catherine Ashton called for the further easing of Israel`s
four-year blockade of the Gaza Strip during a visit to the
impoverished Hamas-run enclave on Sunday.
"The answer here is opening the crossings," Ashton told
reporters on her first visit since Israel`s deadly May 31
seizure of a Gaza-bound aid fleet sparked international
demands to lift the closure.
"People here recognise and understand the security needs
of Israel," she said at a press conference held at a UN-run
school for Palestinian refugees.
"But that should not prevent the ability to be able to
see the free flow of goods into and out of Gaza in order that
houses can be rebuilt, children can go to fully functioning
schools and businesses can flourish."
She said the European Union was willing to send monitors
to help operate the crossings, but they would have to have a
clear role and work alongside the Western-backed Palestinian
Authority, which Hamas drove out of Gaza in 2007.
She said, however, there was "no proposal on the table"
to reopen Gaza`s sole port.
At the height of the international uproar that followed
the flotilla raid, in which nine Turkish activists were shot
dead, Israel said it would begin allowing all purely civilian
goods into Gaza.
It said it would also allow building materials into the
territory but only for internationally supervised projects and
that its naval blockade would remain in place to keep the
Islamist Hamas movement from importing military-grade rockets
and other weapons.
The European Union welcomed the changes but has pressed
Israel to allow for freer travel and the export of goods
manufactured in Gaza, where the near-collapse of the private
sector has spawned 40 percent unemployment.
"What we have today is 75 per cent less (volume of
traffic) than what we had in the first half of 2007... That`s
not what we are looking for," the Western-backed Palestinian
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said yesterday.
"The economy of Gaza cannot be sustained only by
importation. There needs to be exports," Fayyad told a joint
press conference with Ashton.