Clinton Says She Pressed for Gaza Border Opening
A day after announcing a new diplomatic initiative in the Middle East, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled here Wednesday to show support for the Palestinian Authority, saying she had pressed the Israeli government to open border crossings to war-torn Gaza.
“We have obviously expressed concern about the border crossing,” Mrs. Clinton said after a meeting with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. “We want humanitarian aid to get into Gaza in sufficient amounts to help alleviate the suffering of the people in Gaza.”
Mrs. Clinton also spoke out against Israeli plans to demolish houses belonging to Palestinians in East Jerusalem. She said the orders, issued by the municipal authorities, were “unhelpful” to the peace process.
Israelis claim the houses were built illegally, while the Palestinian owners said they were unable to obtain building permits. Israel ordered the demolition of 88 homes last week, and another 55 this week. The dispute has become a microcosm of the larger battle over Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians.
“It is clearly a matter of deep concern to those who are directly affected,” Mrs. Clinton said.
Mrs. Clinton has used her brief, opening foray into Middle East diplomacy to signal a new direction, saying Tuesday that the Obama administration will send two senior officials to Syria this weekend to begin discussions with the government.
The overture suggests how the Obama administration intends to tackle three interlocking challenges in the Middle East: the nuclear threat posed by Iran; long-simmering tensions between Israel and Syria; and the grinding conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Syria, regional experts say, could be the key to alleviating all three.
Visiting Ramallah after talks with Israeli officials in Jerusalem, Mrs. Clinton met the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, and President Abbas before her scheduled departure from the region. Her remarks underscored the Obama administration’s continued rejection of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and which many Western governments regard as a terrorist organization.
By seeking an understanding with Syria, which has cultivated close ties to Iran, the United States could increase the pressure on Iran to respond to its offer of direct talks. Such an understanding would also give Arab states and moderate Palestinians the political cover to negotiate with Israel. That, in turn, could increase the burden on Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, to relax its hostile stance toward Israel.
But in a region where even small steps take years to negotiate, officials sought to tamp down expectations of rapid progress. “It is a worthwhile effort to go and begin preliminary conversations,” Mrs. Clinton said, noting Syria’s wide influence in the region, as well as its troubled history with the United States. Yet, she cautioned, “we have no way to predict what the future of our relations with Syria might be.”
The State Department declined to elaborate on the issues the emissaries would broach in Syria or why negotiators were going now.
The two emissaries are Daniel B. Shapiro, a senior director at the National Security Council, and Jeffrey D. Feltman, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. Mr. Feltman, a former ambassador to Lebanon, has extensive experience with Syria; Mr. Shapiro advised the Obama campaign on the Arab-Israeli conflict.( Collapse )source