Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a meeting of Likud ministers on Sunday that he supports easing the three-year blockade Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip, but that he would not approve the lifting of the naval blockade on the Hamas-ruled territory.
With this declaration, Netanyahu rejected the proposal made by the foreign ministers of France, Spain and Italy, who suggested that in the future, Gaza-bound ships be searched by European inspectors in Cyprus.
The suggestion was made after a clash between Israeli navy commandos and Turkish activists aboard a Gaza-bound aid ship, part of a flotilla of ships aiming to break the blockade, resulted in the deaths of nine activists last month.
Netanyahu said during the meeting that "Israel will continue to prevent ships from reaching Gaza, while simultaneously easing the blockade." He added that other nations in the region also oppose lifting the naval blockade, saying that "the arrival of ships directly to Gaza is problematic, not only for us, but for others as well."
Netanyahu's remarks came following a report in Haaretz that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had told U.S. President Barack Obama during his recent visit to Washington that he opposed the lifting of the naval blockade because such a move would bolster Hamas, the rival of Abbas' Fatah party.
However, Abbas' spokesman issued a denial on Sunday in response to the morning's report, explaining to the Palestinain Wafa news agency that the Palestinian president had told Obama that the lifting of the blockade on Gaza was like the peace process in the sense that "the president [Abbas] has raised the demand to lift the blockade in all his meetings with world leaders."
"The world should take advantage of the events of the Gaza flotilla to push Israel to lift the blockade and end the suffering of Gaza's inhabitants," The spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaina, added.
Meanwhile Sunday, Middle East envoy Tony Blair said he hoped to see movement in the next few days on easing the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu, under rising pressure to ease the embargo since a deadly raid on a Turkish-backed aid ship heading to Gaza last month, held talks on the issue with Blair on Friday.
Asked when supplies could begin getting through to Gaza, Blair told the BBC: "I think it's got to be pretty soon."
"As fast as the next few days I hope we can get significant movement on this because otherwise I think the pressure will build up," he said.
"As Benjamin Netanyahu has quite rightly said today, there is a way to distinguish between the security aspect and the daily life aspect. And if we keep that distinction in our mind then I think we will get the right answer and we can start that quickly," he said.
The former British prime minister said the Palestinian authorities and the European Union, as well as Israel, could play a role in policing the flow of goods into Gaza.
"There are all sorts of different ways that you can help police this material, the main thing is to make whatever policing system you have effective," said Blair.
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