Ashton: Israel, open Gaza crossings

EU foreign policy chief to begin Middle East visit this weekend.

catherine ashton 311 (photo credit: AP)
catherine ashton 311
(photo credit: AP)
BRUSSELS— Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, starts her second Mideast tour in four months Saturday, trying to restart the stalled peace talks and push Israel into making good on a promise to open 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 the eve of her visit.  She added, "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."
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On her three-day visit, Ashton will meet separately with the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and also with Tony Blair, the former British premier who is now the international community's envoy to the Middle East.
She is expected to reiterate the EU's commitment to progress in the Mideast peace process, officials said.
Ashton planned to travel to Gaza on Sunday for visits to projects run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.
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.