Ashton arrives in Ramallah at start of three-day visit to region
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, arrived Saturday in Ramallah for talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and drum up support for possible direct negotiations with Israel, dpa reported.
Ashton started a three-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories by meeting the Palestinian Prime Minister in the West Bank and is to continue by visiting the Gaza strip on Sunday.
During her second visit to the Strip this year Ashton is to pay a visit to a summer camp and a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine, which is set to receive an additional 1 million euros (1.29 million dollars) in EU funding.
However, meetings with Hamas leaders are excluded in the schedule. Israel normally shuts off the Palestinian enclave from international contact to avoid contact with the Islamist group Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the EU and the United States.
Ashton is also set to meet Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Sunday.
Israeli media reported this week that Lieberman would be ready to make a proposal to Ashton in order to hand over security inspections of goods and people entering Gaza by land and sea to the international community.
Ashton will visit again the West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday to meet the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The EU foreign policy representative arrives in the region when the US special envoy George Mitchell tries to give support to Palestinian and Israeli governments to move from the current indirect talks with Israel to direct negotiations.
Mitchell announced Saturday in Ramallah that he would tour several countries in the region in an effort to gain support for the US peace plan in the Middle East.