EU envoy calls for open borders on Gaza visit

EU envoy calls for open borders on Gaza visit 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.