JERUSALEM , (AFP) – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is pressing Israel to stop blocking aid to the besieged Gaza Strip and will raise the issue during a visit next week, an Israeli newspaper reported on Wednesday.
US Middle East envoy George Mitchell is expected to issue a strongly worded statement on the situation when he travels to Israel this week, Haaretz said.
“Israel is not making enough efforts to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza,” the paper quoted US officials as telling their Israeli counterparts last week. “The US expects Israel to meet its commitments on this matter.”
Clinton has relayed messages to Israel about the aid issue in the past week, and senior aides have made it clear the question would be central to her visit to Israel on Tuesday.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Ygal Palmor said he was unaware of any such messages and the prime minister’s office said it would not comment “as long as there is no official US statement” on the issue.
Last week, influential US Senator John Kerry witnessed first-hand the difficulties involved in delivering key supplies to Gaza, which has been under an Israeli blockade since Hamas seized power in June 2007, and is struggling to recover from Israel’s devastating 22-day war.
While touring Gaza, Kerry learned that truckloads of pasta were prevented from entering the Palestinian enclave and was told by UN officials that Israel lists rice as humanitarian aid but not pasta, the newspaper said.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak eventually allowed the shipment in following an intervention by Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate who heads the US Senate’s powerful Foreign Relations Committee.
Israel insists it will not reopen its crossing points into Gaza until Hamas releases Gilad Shalit, a soldier captured by Palestinian militants in a deadly cross-border raid from Gaza in June 2006.