EU's Ashton tells Palestinians she will do more to end Gaza siege
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, on Tuesday told Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad she was "willing to step up efforts" to end the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, an EU spokesman said.
The telephone conversation took place a day after an attempt by a flotilla of six boats carrying humanitarian aid to break the embargo of the strip was violently quashed by the Israeli army. At least nine activists were killed in the confrontation, DPA reported.
The incident sparked anger throughout the Arab world, and fueled speculation that the Palestinians might break off indirect peace talks with the Israelis that the United States started a few weeks ago.
Ashton stressed "the importance of proceeding with the peace talks, ideally with direct talks," but also told Fayyad she "fully understands Arab League and Palestinian Authority concerns."
The EU's foreign policy director also asked Fayyad about the chances of Palestinian reconciliation. Currently, the West Bank is run by the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority, while the Gaza Strip is run by Hamas, which the EU and the US shun, as they consider it to be a terrorist organization.
Ashton suggested that the Palestinian Authority's President, Mahmoud Abbas, should visit Gaza, and told Fayyad she was willing to meet him during his visit to Brussels, planned for mid-July.
On Monday, the EU's foreign policy chief spoke on the phone with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and issued two statements calling, among other things, for an "immediate, sustained and unconditional opening" of the Gaza border crossings and for an "immediate, full and impartial inquiry" on the flotilla attack.