EU foreign policy chief Ashton to visit Israel

The European Union's foreign policy representative is to visit Israel to discuss the organisation's response to the Iranian nuclear threat.

Baroness Ashton will meet the Israeli Prime Minister next Wednesday before the next stage in talks between Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.

Benjamin Netanyahu disparaged talks by the P5+1 members in April for giving Iran "a freebie" because they allowed Tehran to enrich uranium without obstacle for another five weeks.

Baroness Ashton will use her time in Israel to update Mr Netanyahu on the progress on the talks and the latest developments.

A report by the Associated Press on Thursday morning revealed that Hamas had conducted secret discussions with five EU member states in the last few months, despite the fact that the EU recognises Hamas as a terrorist group and has no official dealings with it.

Hamas official Osama Hamdan reportedly held talks with government officials from major EU players, but AP did not reveal which countries were involved.

A spokesperson for the UK Foreign Office said: "We do not have any direct contact with Hamas.

"The Quartet have set out clearly that Hamas must renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previously signed agreements. Hamas must make credible movement towards these conditions, which remain the benchmark against which its intentions should be judged."

Last updated: 10:43am, May 3 2012