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Vice Premier Shimon Peres had an angry exchange with visiting European Union foreign policy coordinator Javier Solana yesterday, after Solana demanded to know why Israel is keeping the Gaza Strip's border crossings closed.

Solana argued that this causes hunger and frustration, which ultimately encourage anti-Israel violence.

But Peres snapped back that "Israel is first and foremost obliged to provide security for its citizens." Therefore, he said, as long as missiles are fired at Israeli communities and terrorist activity continues, the crossings will not be opened.

Peres also blamed Hamas for the Palestinians' difficulties and rejected Solana's request that Israel transfer the taxes and customs duties it collects on the Palestinians' behalf. "The European Union must look at the reality and understand that as long as Hamas continues with its policy of extremism, the Palestinian people will continue to suffer and there can be no progress toward a peace deal, which could have been signed some time ago," he said.

Peres also charged that Syria's peace feelers were meant solely to ease American pressure and did not indicate serious intent to reach a deal with Israel.

In separate talks with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Solana called for the evacuation of illegal settlement outposts.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz also met the visiting EU envoy and expressed Israel's concern over the Iranian nuclear program, describing it as "an international problem that should concern the entire free world."