July 5, 2010 / 9:15 PM / 9 years ago

European envoys accept Israel offer to visit Gaza

BERLIN (Reuters) - A delegation of European foreign ministers on Monday accepted Israel’s invitation to visit the Gaza Strip and said it was an “important opportunity” to monitor the implementation of measures announced by Israel.

Israel has largely refused to let foreign diplomats pass through its checkpoints into Gaza since it tightened its blockade on the coastal enclave after Hamas Islamists seized control in 2007.

In a joint letter, the foreign ministers of Italy, Great Britain, France, Spain and Germany thanked Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for the invitation.

“In the joint written reply, we said we would gladly accept the invitation and hoped that the measures announced by the Israeli government regarding Gaza would soon be implemented,” the German Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The steps that had already been taken were “a noteworthy and encouraging sign of Israeli policy toward Gaza,” it added.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing mounting international pressure, announced in June that Israel would ease its embargo on Gaza to let in all good except for arms and materials that could be used for military purposes.

The blockade has been criticized as collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians in a bid to weaken Hamas, which refuses to meet Western demands that they recognize Israel and renounce violence.

Israel came under strong pressure to soften the policy after an international outcry when its commandos killed nine pro-Palestinian activists on May 31 during a raid on a convoy of Gaza-bound aid ships.

The German Foreign Ministry said the European diplomats aimed to conduct talks with the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority during their visit throughout Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

An Israel official said last month the delegation would not meet Hamas officials.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Michael Roddy

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