Text size

Israel will increase the range of goods permitted into the Gaza Strip as a gesture to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who concluded her visit to the region Wednesday. In recent weeks, Israel has prevented such products as jam, pasta and paper from reaching the besieged coastal territory.

"We want humanitarian aid to get into Gaza in sufficient amounts to alleviate the suffering of the people," Clinton said, but stopped short of calling for a full opening of the crossings.

Last week, Haaretz reported that U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell had complained about Israel's policy of limiting goods sent into Gaza, saying it was "unacceptable to the U.S."

Many other diplomats, including the Norwegian Foreign Minister and a number of counterparts from the European Union, also urged Israel to drop the measure.

"Even though the pasta issue was solved last week, this entire episode has made us look ridiculous in the eyes of the world," a senior Jerusalem source said yesterday. "It's too bad we have to wait for pressure from Europe and the U.S., and we couldn't rescind the measure on our own."

Before her departure, Clinton visited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah, where she promised vigorous and personal involvement in stalled Mideast peace efforts and criticized Israel's demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem as unhelpful. Clinton also displayed strong public support for Abbas.

"The Palestinian Authority is the only legitimate government of the Palestinian people," she told a news conference, standing next to Abbas.

Talking to reporters after meeting Clinton, Abbas criticized Iran, one of Hamas' main backers. He charged that Iran is trying to deepen the Palestinian divide and said Iran needs to take care of its own issues and not intervene in Palestinian affairs.

In recent days, Israel has issued orders for the demolition of dozens of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, saying the homes were built illegally.

Palestinians say they cannot receive proper building permits from Israeli authorities, and the planned demolitions are a means to assert Israel's control over the disputed city.

"Clearly, this kind of activity is unhelpful," Clinton said, adding that she would raise it with the Israeli government as well as municipal officials in Jerusalem. She said such actions violate the road map, a U.S.-backed peace plan.

Clinton spoke shortly after Israel issued a new order to demolish five residential buildings containing 55 apartments, said Hatem Abdul Qader, a Palestinian official on Jerusalem affairs.

"It's an open demographic war," he said. "He said lawyers have challenged the orders, halting demolitions until March 10."

Stephan Miller, a spokesman for city hall, said the buildings under demolition notice were empty and had been built illegally.

Jerusalem's Mayor Nir Barkat charged that Palestinians had fed Clinton misinformation and that they were taking advantage of her visit to push their agenda. He said that the buildings were built on area that the municipality had set aside as open spaces and parks.

On Wednesday Haaretz published a letter signed by 23 Israel Prize laureates including A.B. Yehoshua, Amos Oz, David Grossman, Nathan Zach, Prof. Ze'ev Sternhell, Shulamit Aloni and Lia van Leer, protesting Barkat's intention to demolish illegally-built buildings in East Jerusalem.