Gaza smuggling tunnel 311.
(photo credit: Ashley Bates)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called on the EU Wednesday to put together a
“strong, real and effective” force to prevent arms smuggling into the Gaza
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Lieberman’s call came during a meeting in Jerusalem with visiting
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who has been a leading voice calling
for Israel to ease up on the blockade of Gaza and enable the free movement of
goods and people.
Lieberman, according to a statement issued by his
office, told Ashton that the reason the Olmert government clamped a closure on
Gaza in 2007 was to stop the unrelenting smuggling of arms into the region
through tunnels under the Philadelphi corridor separating Gaza and
“If you want to bring about a lifting of the closure around Gaza
you should take responsibility and establish a strong, real and effective force
to prevent smuggling there,” he said. “I can promise you that the minute the
smuggling of arms into Gaza stops, the closure will be lifted.”
Foreign Minister said that close cooperation between the EU and Israel could
lead to a genuine change in the situation, but that first the EU needed to
understand that “the problem is the terrorist actions from Gaza, not the closure
meant to prevent them.”
Prior to Ashton’s arrival to Israel on Wednesday,
her office put out a statement saying the purpose of her visit was to meet with
leaders from both sides to “confirm the commitment of the European Union to the
peace process, and to reiterate the need for the opening of crossings into Gaza
in order to allow for its reconstruction and economic recovery.”
addition to meeting Lieberman, Ashton also met Wednesday with Defense Minister
Ehud Barak, and Opposition leader Tzipi Livni
She did not meet Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu because of scheduling problems. Ashton is scheduled
to meet Palestinian leaders in Ramallah on Thursday.
meanwhile, is scheduled to go to Sharm e-Sheikh Thursday for a meeting with
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office
said that Netanyahu was in regular contact with the Egyptian leader, and that he
viewed the relationship with Egypt as a cornerstone of peace and stability in
the region. The sources said the two would discuss how to get the diplomatic
process back on track, as well as bilateral issues and “larger issues of
Netanyahu will be accompanied by Industry, Trade and
Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer who is known to have a good relationship
with Mubarak; Uzi Arad, who held a meeting last week in Egypt with Intelligence
chief Omar Suleiman; and military attaché Maj.-Gen.
Netanyahu is not bringing press with him.
In a related development,
Netanyahu threw his support Wednesday behind a proposal put forward by
Ben-Eliezer to increase the number of Palestinians allowed to work in
According to the plan, which is scheduled to be discussed in
Sunday’s cabinet meeting, 4,000 West Bank Palestinians would be given permits to
work in construction and 1,250 in agriculture.
“In addition to the help
it will give to the construction and agriculture industries, the process also
represents an important step forward in the relationship between us and the
Palestinians,” Ben-Eliezer said.
A source close to the prime minister
said this plan was consistent with Netanyahu’s approach that in conjunction with
trying to reach a political agreement, there needed to be a “bottom up” approach
that would focus on improving the West Bank economy to create an atmosphere more
conducive to peace.
Meanwhile, Kadima MKs Nachman Shai, Yulia Shamolov
Berkovich, and Nino Abesadze will meet on Sunday with Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas. Shai said the meeting was not intended to put pressure
“We pressure Netanyahu all the time, and we don’t need a
meeting with Abbas to do that,” Shai said.
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni will
not participate in the meeting, because she did not want to be seen as
undermining Netanyahu. For that reason, she has made a point of not meeting with
Abbas since Netanyahu took office.
Likud Ministers criticized Shai for
organizing the meeting.
“This meeting will be interpreted by the
Palestinians as encouragement to continue to refuse to negotiate and to stiffen
their demands,” said Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein.
Hoffman and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report