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EU's Ashton: Gaza 'needs lasting solution'

July 28, 2010 7:31 P.M. (Updated: July 29, 2010 1:11 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton briefed EU foreign ministers Tuesday on her recent trip to the Mideast, focusing on Gaza, where she spent a day in June.

After the briefing, the EU Foreign Affairs Council commented in a statement on an "urgent need for a lasting solution to the situation in Gaza and for the revival of its economy."

One of the recommendations was the "immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza, and discussed the possible role the EU could play in contributing to improved access."

Ashton, in a statement to the press on behalf of the council, reiterated the EU's call for proximity talks to lead as swiftly as possible to the resumption of direct peace talks, which Palestinian officials have indicated is unlikely unless progress is made in the discussions led by the US.

The EU official said a negotiated two-state solution should be ready in 24 months. She urged the parties to find a satisfactory way of addressing all the final-status issues, and reaffirmed the EU's commitment to its position on the Middle East peace process set out in December 2009.

Ashton also urged the Israeli government to end all settlement activities and appealed to both sides to avoid any provocative actions. She further called for the immediate release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

British PM: Gaza like 'a prison camp'

On Tuesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron likened the experience of Palestinians under Israel's blockade of Gaza to a prison camp, the British daily The Guardian reported.

"The situation in Gaza has to change," the London-based newspaper quoted Cameron as saying. "Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp."

Cameron's remarks came during a joint news conference in Ankara with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, where he condemned Israel's raid of an aid fleet in international waters on 31 May that killed nine Turkish nationals.

"The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable," he said. "I have told [Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu we will expect the Israeli inquiry to be swift, transparent and rigorous ... Let me also be clear that the situation in Gaza has to change."

The British premier made similar remarks in the House of Commons on 28 June, when he said the coastal enclave had become a "giant open prison," The Guardian reported.

"My description of Gaza is something I said in the House of Commons several weeks ago. Perhaps this is final proof that if you want to keep something completely secret you should announce it in the House of Commons," he said.

Cameron said Britain remained opposed to the blockade. "The fact is we have long supported lifting the blockade of Gaza, we have long supported proper humanitarian access. Even though some progress has been made we are still in the situation where it is very difficult to get in, it is very difficult to get out. So I think the description is warranted."

In response to the premier's comments, Ron Prosor, the Israeli ambassador to London, blamed the Palestinians' situation on Hamas, the daily reported. "The people of Gaza are the prisoners of the terrorist organization Hamas. The situation in Gaza is the direct result of Hamas' rule and priorities.

"We know that the prime minister would also share our grave concerns about our own prisoner in the Gaza strip, Gilad Shalit, who has been held hostage there for over four years, without receiving a single Red Cross visit."
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