Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (L) welcomes EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton before a meeting
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (L) welcomes EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton before a meeting in Jerusalem. Ashton held talks Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as scores of Gaza rockets pounded southern Israel and air strikes killed four armed Palestinians. © Menahem Kahana - AFP
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (L) welcomes EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton before a meeting
AFP
Last updated: October 24, 2012

Ashton in Israel as Gaza violence flares

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton held talks Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as scores of Gaza rockets pounded southern Israel and air strikes killed four armed Palestinians.

Ashton is in Israel as part of a regional tour which has also taken her to Jordan and Lebanon.

She met Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman followed by talks with Netanyahu, but Defence Minister Ehud Barak cancelled their planned meeting over the persistent unrest in Gaza, EU officials said.

In the evening, she was to meet with Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad before talks on Thursday at 1100 GMT with president Mahmud Abbas.

Her arrival came as Israel raided targets in Gaza, killing four armed Palestinians, and militant groups fired more than 70 rockets at southern Israel, severely wounding two Thai workers.

Speaking to public radio after meeting Ashton, Lieberman said he told his guest the peace process was being completely blocked by Abbas.

"I told Catherine Ashton that on the Palestinian track there was neither a process nor peace," said Lieberman, who heads the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party.

"The problem is Abu Mazen (Abbas). He is not at all interested in an agreement with Israel. On the contrary he is looking for an escalation," he charged.

Lieberman has repeatedly accused the Palestinian leader of waging a form of "diplomatic terror" against Israel through his attempt to secure upgraded Palestinian membership at the United Nations, which is strongly opposed by the Jewish state.

But Abbas insisted during a joint news conference in Ramallah with visiting Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, that "the UN move is not an alternative to negotiations."

"We are ready to resume negotiations as soon as we return from the UN," he said.

In August, Lieberman sent a letter to the Mideast Quartet top diplomats, one of whom is Ashton, in which he accused Abbas of being "uninterested or unable" to reach a peace arrangement with Israel, and urged them to force elections on the Palestinians in order to oust him.

The Palestinians slammed the letter as "inflammatory" and even Netanyahu's bureau rushed to distance itself from the letter.

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold for more than two years following an intractable dispute over settlements, and Quartet efforts to bring the two sides closer together have so far led nowhere.

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