This report has been updated. See the note below.
REPORTING FROM GAZA CITY -- European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Wednesday that Jordanian-sponsored exploratory peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis should continue and eventually evolve into full-fledged negotiations.
"I am a realist about where we are," Ashton told reporters during a rare visit to the Gaza Strip. "But I'm a passionate believer that we need to keep talks going and increase the potential of these talks to become genuine negotiations."
Informal discussions between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators started Jan. 3 in Amman, the Jordanian capital, in an attempt to restart the stalled direct peace talks that halted in September 2010.
Palestinians are threatening to quit the discussions as soon as Thursday, complaining that Israel has failed to submit detailed proposals that might lead to an agreement on borders between Israel and an eventual Palestinian state. [Updated 11:02 a.m., Jan. 25: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday that the talks were not yielding results and he would consult early next month with the Arab League about whether to extend them or drop out.]
Ashton also pledged about $70 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which assists Palestinian refugees. She met with representatives of civil society and local businesses, but did not meet any officials from Hamas, the Islamist militant group that has ruled Gaza since 2007.
-- Ahmed Aldabba
Photo: European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton shakes hands with Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency during a news conference in Gaza City. Credit: Hatem Moussa / Associated Press