WASHINGTON The United States on Sunday hailed Israel's easing of its land blockade of Gaza and said President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would discuss further steps when they meet in Washington on July 6.
The White House welcomed Israel's new rules for its land embargo, which has drawn heightened international criticism since a deadly raid on an aid flotilla bound for the Hamas-run Palestinian territory.
"We believe that the implementation of the policy announced by the government of Israel today should improve life for the people of Gaza," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Israel said it would start allowing in all goods over land except for weapons and materials that can be used to make them.
But Israel did not ease its sea blockade on Gaza, despite international calls to do so since commandos killed nine pro-Palestinian activists during the interception of a Turkish aid vessel on May 31. Israeli officials said the troops acted in self-defense when attacked during boarding.
Obama, in talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on June 9, called for a "new conceptual framework" to replace the Israeli embargo. But he stopped short of joining a broader international outcry against Israel, a staunch U.S. ally.
Netanyahu, who was due to see Obama on June 1 but scrapped his trip because of the flotilla crisis, will now meet Obama at the White House on July 6.
Gibbs said the United States would work with all parties to "explore additional ways to improve the situation in Gaza, including greater freedom of movement and commerce between Gaza and the West Bank."
"There is more to be done, and the president looks forward to discussing this new policy, and additional steps, with Prime Minister Netanyahu during his visit to Washington," he said.
Obama and Netanyahu are also expected to try to mend fences after recent strains over Jewish settlement construction on occupied land.
In another meeting between Obama and a key ally in the Middle East, Saudi King Abdullah will visit Washington for talks on June 29, the White House said.
Gibbs said Obama "looks forward to discussing with King Abdullah the strengthening of bilateral ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia as well as a range of common concerns related to Gulf security, peace in the Middle East and other regional and global matters."
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by John O'Callaghan)