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Obama wants new blockade approach

US president Barack Obama wants to sharply limit Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the botched naval raid that is straining American and Israeli relations with allies around the world.

"The situation in Gaza is unsustainable," Mr Obama said as he met Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in the White House Oval Office.

He said the attention of the world was on the problem because of the "tragedy" of the Israeli raid that killed nine people trying to bring in supplies.

Mr Obama said Israel's broad blockade on goods entering Gaza should be narrowed so that arms were kept out, but not items needed for the Palestinians' daily life and economic development. In connection with Mr Abbas' visit, the White House announced a £276 million aid package for Gaza and the West Bank.

State Department spokesman PJ Crowley, said the money represented specific allocations that had already been budgeted for the Palestinians, some of it fulfilling a £620 million commitment by secretary of state Hillary Clinton last year. New projects announced included £165 million for mortgage assistance in the West Bank and £7 million to build five new schools in Gaza.

Building materials are among items forbidden for delivery to the Gaza Strip by the Israelis, who say the Palestinian enclave's militant Hamas leaders would use them to help strengthen Hamas' military capabilities. "The key here is making sure that Israel's security needs are met, but that the needs of people in Gaza are also met," said Mr Obama.

"So if we can get a new conceptual framework ... it seems to me that we should be able to take what has been a tragedy and turn it into an opportunity to create a situation where lives in Gaza are actually, directly improved."

The approach marked a shift although it stopped well short of meeting international calls for an end to the three-year-old blockade, which Israel says is needed to keep arms away from the Hamas movement that controls Gaza. Mr Obama said the US would discuss the new approach with European leaders, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.Mr Abbas welcomed the aid package, which will go for things like creating jobs and improving access to drinking water, but urged further action on the blockade.

"We also see the need to lift the Israeli siege of the Palestinian people, the need to open all the crossings and the need to let building material and humanitarian material and all the necessities go into the Palestinian people," he said Abbas.

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