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Tuesday March 9, 2010 7:47 AM (EST+7)
Israel to allow Ashton, Ban into Gaza Strip

Read more: Catherine Ashton, Ban Ki-Moon, Gaza Strip, blockade

JERUSALEM, March 8 (Reuters) - Israel will allow two senior international visitors to enter the blockaded Gaza Strip, in a rare departure from policy, during their upcoming visits to the region, the foreign ministry said on Monday.

Israel has denied almost all international guests entry from its territory to the Hamas-controlled enclave since its offensive there last year in order to isolate the Palestinian Islamist group that calls for the Jewish state's destruction.

The ministry said in a statement that the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, who will visit next week, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who visits in a few weeks, will be able to go to Gaza.

In response to the special requests ... Israel has decided to facilitate their entry to the Gaza Strip in order to allow them to get a first hand impression of humanitarian activities taking place in that area, the statement said.

Ashton said at the weekend that she had asked to go to Gaza to see how EU funding for the territory was being used.

We are providing a huge amount of aid into Gaza and I'm very interested to make sure that we are seeing the benefits of that aid going in, Ashton said at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Cordoba, Spain.

More than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died in an Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009 which aimed to end rockets fired against Israeli cities. Israel has since paid the United Nations $10.5 million for property damage and injuries which the U.N. suffered in Gaza during the attack.

A spokesman for Ashton said she expected to go to Gaza next Tuesday or Wednesday but that her schedule had still to be determined. (Additional reporting by Luke Baker in Brussels, Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Dominic Evans)






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