Israel Agrees to Let UN Chief, EU Commissioner Enter Gaza

Ban and Ashton to enter blockaded strip to give aid, in first approved entrance since 2008 Gaza war.

Israel has agreed to grant United Nations secretary general and the European Union's foreign policy commissioner entry visas into the Gaza Strip, the first time it has acceded to such a request from international officials since Operation Cast Lead in December 2008.

The Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that the two unusual entry permits were granted to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the European Union's foreign policy commissioner Catherine Ashton.

"In response to the unique requested submitted by the UN chief, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, and the EU Foreign Policy commissioner, Lady Catherine Ashton, Israel has decided to permit their entrance into the Gaza Strip for close inspection of humanitarian aide work," the Ministry's statement wrote.

Foreign Ministry sources added that Lady Ashton would enter the Gaza strip first during her visit to the Middle East next week.

Ban is scheduled to arrive in Israel within the next few weeks, during which he will also cross the border into Gaza.

The reason for the unusual permits is reportedly to ease the international pressure on Israel relating to blockade on the Gaza Strip.

The British stateswoman, who has also served as the Commissioner for Trade in the European Commission, said earlier that in the EU's view: "East Jerusalem is occupied territory, together with the West Bank."

Ashton demanded that Israel immediately lift its blockade on the Gaza Strip, and reiterated that the union opposes the existence of the West Bank separation fence, as it opposes evictions of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.

The stateswoman, whose full title is Baroness Ashton of Upholland, also only defined Israel's partial freeze of West Bank settlement construction as a "first step," as opposed to the warmer description of the move by EU foreign ministers, who last week took "positive note" of it.