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Middle East Quartet discourages more flotillas

The Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators on Saturday said it is concerned about "unsustainable...

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The Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators on Saturday said it is concerned about "unsustainable conditions" facing people in Gaza but said additional flotillas should be discouraged.

For the second year in a row, international activists have been assembling in the Mediterranean on an assortment of boats, planning to challenge Israel's sea blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israel says its blockade of Gaza is aimed at stopping weapons from reaching the enclave's rulers, Hamas -- an Islamist group branded a terrorist organization by the West.

Palestinians and their supporters say the naval blockade is illegal and constitutes collective punishment for Gaza's 1.5 million residents.

The Quartet -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- said in a statement it "remains concerned about the unsustainable conditions facing the civilian population in Gaza but notes that efforts have improved conditions over the last year."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has previously represented the UN at Quartet meetings.

The Quartet, represented by former British prime minister Tony Blair, aims to promote an end to the Israel-Palestine conflict and bring stability to the Middle East, according to its web site.

It said there had been a marked increase in the range and scope of goods and materials moving into Gaza. However, it said "considerably more needs to be done to increase the flow of people and goods to and from Gaza, including a liberalization of the market in aggregate, steel bar and cement."

The Quartet's statement said it recognizes that Israel "has legitimate security concerns that must continue to be safeguarded" and it was committed to working with Israel, Egypt and the international community to prevent the illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into Gaza.

It urged those wishing to deliver goods to the people of Gaza to do so through "established channels so that their cargo can be inspected and transferred via established land crossings."