EU envoy speaks out on Schalit

Ashton calls for Red Cross visits to Gilad, sympathizes with family.

July 18, 2010 08:47
2 minute read.
Ashton in Gaza. (AP)

Ashton in Gaza 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday evening in Jerusalem.

At a press conference following their meeting, Ashton expressed sympathy for the family of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit and called for his release.

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"I can understand the great pain of Aviva and Noam Schalit after four years since the kidnapping," said Ashton.

She also called upon the Hamas leadership to allow the Red Cross to visit Schalit in his captivity.

Ashton leaves Gaza and heads to Sderot

Earlier on Sunday, Ashton visited the town of Sderot after leaving the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing as part of her three-day Middle East tour.

The EU envoy stressed the importance of her visiting Sderot and witnessing the damages caused by rockets that have endangered the town's residents.

The rockets and residents affected by them, show how crucial efforts are in building an agreement, Ashton explained. A solution which recognizes and supports Israel's security must be reached, she added. The envoy stressed that she wants to see the building of an agreement, through discussions, which will bring Israelis and Palestinians living side-by-side in peace.

Ashton announced that the goal in the coming weeks and months is to find a solution which imposes peace in an area where human life is at risk and that these were the shared goals of US envoy George Mitchell and other foreign officials.

The EU foreign policy chief's comments in Sderot came after she called for direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority while in Gaza.

"We want to make further progress in negotiations that can bring this conflict to an end," Ashton said. "I encourage both the Palestinian Authority and Israel to begin substantive discussions on all the final status issues."

Ashton's visit marks her second Mideast tour in four months as she attempts to restart stalled peace talks and push Israel into opening border crossings with Gaza.

"The European Union has been calling for an urgent and fundamental change of policy regarding the closure of Gaza," Ashton said on Saturday. "We have welcomed the announcements made by Israel following the flotilla incident and are now awaiting their implementation. We stand ready to support the opening of the Gaza crossings for the traffic of goods to and from Gaza."

Ashton plans to visit Sderot later Sunday.

During her three-day visit, she will also meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. In the Palestinian areas, she will meet with Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian president and premier, respectively.

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