Ashton calls for new Middle East peace drive

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Ashton calls for new Middle East peace drive

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The EU’s foreign policy chief has made a fresh bid to restart direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Negotiators from the two sides have held four meetings in Amman, Jordan, this month, but so far there has been no breakthrough that would permit resumption of the top-level talks that were suspended in late 2010.

During a visit to Gaza, Catherine Ashton signed a 60-million euro financing agreement to support the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) fund.

“I’m here to urge that this now becomes proper negotiations, understanding the needs particularly of Palestinian people,” she said after the ceremony.

Israel welcomed Ashton’s visit and praised the EU’s 60 million euro injection to the UN’s relief work. But it also expressed concern about where the money ends up.

Yuli Edelstein, Israel’s Minister of Information and Diaspora, told euronews: “I think here it’s also very important to follow the money, to see what is happening with this European money, because it could be a very powerful instrument towards future peace – if it’s about infastructure development, economic development, education or it could be very counterproductive if it is invested in terror infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, the jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti made a rare appearance in an Israeli court as a witness. Afterwards he took the opportunity to call for Palestinian unity and praised non-violent resistance that has swept the Arab world.

There was speculation recently that Barghouti may have been included in a prisoner swap deal with Hamas, a deal that brought home Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit after five years in captivity in the Gaza Strip.