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New EU policy chief blasts Israel

(JTA) — The European Union’s new foreign policy chief criticized Israel in her first speech.

Catherine Ashton, who earlier this month replaced Javier Solana as high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, on Tuesday condemned Israel’s "occupation,"  demanded that Israel lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip and blasted the security fence.

"East Jerusalem is occupied territory together with the West Bank," Ashton said, according to the EUObserver. "The EU is opposed to the destruction of homes, the eviction of Arab residents and the construction of the separation barrier."

In her address to EU representatives in Strasbourg, she also belittled Israel’s construction freeze in West Bank settlements, calling it a "first step," despite the fact that EU foreign ministers last week took "positive note" of the freeze.

Ashton also took a shot at Tony Blair, special envoy to the Middle East for the Quartet made up of the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia, saying that "The Quartet  must demonstrate that it is worth the money, that it is capable of being reinvigorated. I have talked about this with both sides in Jerusalem, to Mr. Blair and the [U.S.] secretary of state."

During her address, Ashton announced plans to visit the Middle East in late January or early February,

Following the address, some left-wing and liberal members of the European Union called for taking measures against Israel, including a suspension of the EU’s Association Agreement to trade penalties against products made in West Bank settlements.
 

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