Peres Ashton 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The Kassam rocket that killed a Thai worker in the Netiv Ha’asara area on Thursday was launched shortly after EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton became the highest level international official to enter the Gaza Strip in a year.
Ashton, upon exiting the Strip a few hours later, issued a statement saying, “I’m extremely shocked by the rocket attack and the tragic loss of life. I said when I came to Israel that part of the reason for my trip to this region is to express my concern that we move as quickly as we can to proximity talks. I urge everyone to continue to work in that direction and to make sure these incidents cannot deter us from finding a lasting peace for this region.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to visit Gaza on Saturday. Israeli officials said that permission to allow Ashton and Ban to travel to Gaza from Israel did not signal a new policy, but rather was one-time permission based on individual requests.
Since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took office last March 31, there have been almost no high level visits to Gaza, with the government saying that such visits would bestow legitimacy on Hamas.
Ashton did not meet any Hamas officials, and Ban has also pledged that he would not do so.
Ban also condemned the rocket attack. “All such acts of terror and violence against civilians are totally unacceptable and contrary to international law,” he said in a statement.
Ashton’s visit to Gaza was designed to visit UN facilities and see how the EU’s $1.4 billion worth of assistance was being used.
“What we have been saying to the Israelis for a long time is that we need to allow aid into this region, to be able to support the economy to grow for people to have the things they are clearly lacking,” she told reporters during her visit.
Prior to going to Gaza, Ashton met with President Shimon Peres, who said that Israel had nothing against the population of Gaza, but could not condone the Hamas leadership, which supports and engages in terrorism against Israel.
Israel wanted the people of Gaza to enjoy the same economic opportunities and standard of living as Palestinians in the West Bank, said Peres, “but their leaders don’t want peace.”
Israel had no interest in making the people of Gaza suffer, Peres said, adding that the response of the Hamas leadership to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza had come somewhat as a surprise.
The constant firing of rockets from Gaza was not what Israel had expected, nor was the abduction from Israeli territory of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, according to Peres.
Hamas officials, he said, “still support terrorism, don’t want to recognize Israel, do not want peace, and the cement or money that the EU sends will be used to build tunnels and to buy missiles.”
If Hamas chooses the “path of terrorism,” Israel will need to respond accordingly, Peres said.
The British government condemned Thursday’s rocket attack.
Foreign Office Minister of State Ivan Lewis said it should be condemned by all those who are committed to peace.
“The UK condemns the rocket attack carried out by militants in Gaza,”
Lewis said in a statement. “All terrorist attacks directed against
Israel are unacceptable and should be condemned by all those who are
committed to peace and stability in the Middle East.”
Lewis urge both sides to resume negotiations and said that the UK was
actively supporting US efforts to achieve this.
“It is now more urgent than ever before that we see the resumption of
meaningful negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians to create a
two state solution,” he said. Jonny Paul contributed to this report