Biden: US seeks ‘new ways’ to handle Gaza after boat deaths

Sharm El-Sheikh–The United States is seeking “new ways” to deal with Israeli-blockaded Gaza in the wake of Israel’s deadly raid on an aid ship last week, Vice President Joe Biden said on Monday.

“We are consulting closely with Egypt, as well as our other partners, on new ways to address the humanitarian, economic, security and political aspects of the situation in Gaza,” he said after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The two leaders held 90 minutes of talks in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Biden, in a statement, also said the two leaders discussed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, political situation in Sudan and Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

“The United States remains committed to a diplomatic resolution to these serious issues, but we will continue to hold Iran accountable for its continued violations of its international responsibilities,” he said.

“We expect to see developments in the United Nations Security Council to hold Iran accountable very soon,” said Biden, referring to a threatened new round of sanctions against Tehran.

“In addition to concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, we remain concerned about its destabilizing activities throughout the region, including with regard to its support for (Lebanon’s) Hizbullah and Hamas,” which rules Gaza.

Biden’s remarks came few days following President Barack Obama’s description of the deadly Gaza flotilla incident as “tragic.”

In an interview with the CNN on Thursday, Obama said Israel “has legitimate security concerns” about the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
But he also said Israel’s blockade of Gaza “is preventing people from pursuing economic opportunities.”

“I think what’s important right now is that we break out of the current impasse, use this tragedy as an opportunity,” to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, he said.

The Obama administration has taken a relatively cautious line while Israel faces international condemnation after its marines killed nine pro-Palestinian activists, including a 19-year-old American, aboard a ship carrying supplies to Gaza last Monday.

Obama reaffirmed US support for an impartial investigation into the incident and said he expected Israel to agree to it “because they recognize that this can’t be good for Israel’s long-term security.”

US officials have said the incident underscores the need to make progress in indirect US-brokered peace talks that began last month and have failed so far to make much headway. But analysts and many people in the region believe the incident is more likely to undermine fledgling peace moves.

On Sunday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that the European Union could help monitor traffic into Gaza to ensure humanitarian supplies reached the blockaded enclave without weapons getting in as well.

“We can propose again that the European Union, European countries, monitor this passage in a very strict manner,” Kouchner told reporters.

“We can very well monitor the cargoes of ships going to Gaza. We can do it, we’d like to do it, we’d be very happy about doing it,” he said, adding that the situation in Gaza was “untenable.”

France and Britain offered to send warships to monitor and prevent arms smuggling to Gaza following Israel’s 22-day offensive in the Palestinian Hamas-ruled territory that ended in January last year.

European Union monitors helped oversee the Rafah land crossing point into Gaza until 2007, when the operation was suspended for security reasons. Although the mission is currently inactive, its mandate was extended for another year by EU leaders last month.

International pressure to ease the blockade on Gaza seems to bear fruits even inside Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Tel Aviv is in principle to allow some good into the besieged enclave.

“We have no desire to make things difficult for the civilian population in Gaza. We would like for goods that are neither war matériel nor contraband to enter Gaza,” said Netanyahu, suggesting easing the naval blockade in return for regular Red Cross visits to Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas and other militant groups in a cross-border raid in 2006.

Last week, Egypt decided to keep its border with Gaza open indefinitely, a reaction which has been widely conceived as diverting attention away from its own involvement in the blockade.

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