EU chief allowed into Gaza

Israel will allow the European Union Foreign Affairs Representative, Baroness Catherine Ashton, and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, to enter the Gaza Strip, in an apparent reversal of policy.

Baroness Ashton will visit next week and Mr Ban in April. Both asked Israel to open the Erez crossing into Gaza for their delegations.

Since Hamas took control of the Strip in 2007, Israel has enforced a ban on visitors. The closure was designed to delegitimise Hamas and help the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority assert its leadership.

But officials at the Foreign Ministry explained that since Baroness Ashton and Mr Ban represent major international organisations with numerous aid programmes in Gaza, it was decided to make an exception.

One high-level official explained that the visits, it was felt, would not affect Hamas's isolation.

He added: "Hamas isn't only isolated, it is under increasing pressure from within Gaza to rebuild the infrastructure and ensure food supplies.

"For this reason, they haven't tried to attack Israel since the end of Operation Cast Lead 14 months ago. The public in Gaza just won't accept another round of fighting."

    Last updated: 3:37pm, March 11 2010