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Updated: July 26, 2010 17:30 IST

EU debates Gaza situation

AP
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European Union's foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton. File photo: AP.
European Union's foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton. File photo: AP.

Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign and security affairs chief, said on Monday Israel must do more to allow goods in and out of the Gaza Strip.

“We need to see more happening to improve the situation in Gaza, especially for exports to be allowed so that the Gaza economy can start to grow again,” Ms. Ashton told reporters on arrival at a meeting with the EU foreign ministers. “There is much to be done.”

Ms. Ashton was to brief the foreign ministers on her visit to the Middle East last week when she met with Israeli officials in Jerusalem and officials of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank town of Ramallah. She also visited the blockaded Gaza Strip to gauge the impact of Israel’s easing of its embargo on the Hamas—ruled territory.

While Israel has eased its grip on the Gaza, it says allowing Gazans to export and travel freely would pose too much of a security risk.

In Jerusalem last week, Ms. Ashton told Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman “the security of Israel is extremely important and must be assured,” but she suggested Israel could ease trade restrictions on Gaza.

The Israeli blockade is aimed to weaken Hamas, an Islamist group committed to the destruction of Israel and refusing to hand over an Israeli soldier who was captured five years ago.

Ms. Ashton said on Monday the soldier must be released, if relations between Israel and Palestinian leaders in the Gaza are to improve.

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