Luke Baker
June 14, 2010 - 12:00am

Israel has agreed in principle to begin easing its three-year-old blockade on Gaza "in days", Middle East envoy Tony Blair said on Monday.

Blair said that after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent days he believed there was now a willingness to allow the entry of more goods into the territory.

"In respect of the closure policy, I hope very much in the next days we will get the in-principle commitment that we require, but then also steps beginning to be taken," he told reporters, referring to Israeli commitments.

"I believe and hope that over the next period of days we can reach a situation where we get a policy in respect of Gaza that is right for Israel's security and is humane towards people in Gaza," he said.

Blair spoke after talks in Luxembourg with European Union foreign ministers, who issued a statement calling for the Gaza blockade to be lifted and a "credible, independent" inquiry into the May 31 assault on aid ships headed to Gaza.

Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza, a coastal territory of 1.5 million Palestinians, soon after militant group Hamas won legislative elections in 2006, and tightened the restrictive measures after Hamas seized power in the strip in June 2007.

But since the raid on the flotilla last month, when Israeli forces killed nine Turkish men after clashes erupted on board one of the vessels headed to Gaza, it has come under international pressure to soften the measures.


The EU wants Israel to move from a policy of banning the entry of almost all goods into Gaza, except a few designated items, and instead adopt a policy of accepting almost all goods and banning only those that are proscribed on a list.

Israel says it maintains the blockade to prevent arms and items that could be used for militant purposes reaching Hamas and other militant groups in the territory.

Blair and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said Israel was moving towards accepting a changed position on what is banned, and said the list of proscribed items -- which includes weapons and "dual-use" items" -- would be updated soon.

"I hope we are now in a position to move forward on this," Blair said, referring to altering the list of items, which would maintain a ban on arms, armaments and explosives.

"In other words we change from the so-called permitted list of items where things only come in if they are on that list to the prohibited list where things come in unless they are on that list."

Blair also said he welcomed an announcement by Israel on Monday that it would conduct its own investigation into the flotilla raid, an inquiry that will include two independent, international experts. The United Nations wanted a completely independent inquiry but Israel resisted that.

"The issue of the inquiry will obviously continue to be an issue of strong policy debate," Blair said. "There are many different views on this but the Israeli inquiry is obviously a significant step forward."


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