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Israel: UN chief, EU official to enter Gaza

March 9, 2010 7:26 A.M. (Updated: March 10, 2010 8:43 A.M.)
Gaza – Ma'an – Israel plans to allow UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton into the besieged Gaza Strip on separate visits, a Monday announcement said.

In a statement, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the authorization came "in response to the special requests."

On Saturday, Ashton had said she hoped to visit Gaza during a Middle East trip later this month, adding that she planned to go to Israel on 17 March.

A spokesman for Ashton cautiously welcomed the announcement.

"It is true that the Israeli government has so far reacted positively to this request,” the spokesman told Agence France-Presse.

"We are continuing to work on the final programme for the trip and are continuing to talk with the Israeli government in relation to this," he was also quoted as saying.

Israel has maintained a strict closure of Gaza's borders since the elected Hamas government took full control of the territory in 2007. In late 2008, Israel also launched an attack on the territory which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

In December, Israel banned a delegation of European MPs from entering Gaza after initially authorizing the visit.

Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin managed to get in via Egypt in February after being denied permission by Israel.

In New York on Monday, Ban also confirmed that he will attend a meeting of the International Quartet of Middle East peace brokers (the EU, Russia, UN, and US) in Moscow on 19 March.

Ban told reporters at UN headquarters that the visit will provide the Quartet with an opportunity “to assess and encourage the earliest possible resumption of the proximity talks which will eventually, I hope, lead to direct negotiations between the parties.”

He was referring to a US announcement earlier on Monday that indirect talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization are to begin soon. US envoy George Mitchell made the announcement after meeting separately with leaders of the two sides.

Ban also confirmed that he plans to attend the Arab League summit in Libya on 27 March.
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