US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ratcheted up the pressure on Israel regarding the ongoing blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip.
In her meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Clinton expressed her concerns regarding the impact the closure has on the humanitarian situation in the Hamas-ruled coastal territory.
The secretary, on her first visit to Israel since being appointed by President Barack Obama, said she believed Israel should open the border crossings to ease the Palestinians' humanitarian needs.
While the other Israeli leaders who met with Clinton earlier in the day reported no overt pressure from the secretary on matters the Obama administration sees as critical, such as the dismantling of West Bank outposts and the cessation of construction in existing settlements, the issue of Gaza's crossings was put squarely on the defense minister's table.
Prior to her meeting with Barak Clinton met with Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni.
Among other resources, Clinton based her request on the observations of Democratic Senator John Kerry, who visited Gaza briefly in February.
Barak, for his part, told the secretary that Israel was facilitating the transfer of humanitarian aid to Gaza, and that the crossings are currently operating at 30% fo their capacity. Peres, Livni and Netanyahu also stressed to Clinton that Israel intends to continue allowing aid into Gaza following Operation Cast Lead.
After her meeting with Barak at the King David Hotel, Clinton headed to meet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at his Jerusalem residence.
Speaking prior to their meeting, Clinton reiterated her support for Israel's struggle against terror, saying that the US was committed to Israel's security and the need of its citizens to live in peace with their neighbors.
Olmert meanwhile said the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the two-state
track. The prime minister said he would brief Secretary Clinton on recent negotiation developments, including the talks with Syria via Turkish mediation.
"I will also brief her on Israel's determination to defend itself against all terror groups, like Hamas, which controls Gaza and continues to fire towards Israel on a daily basis. It is intolerable for all those living in Israel.
"On the Iranian threat – Israel cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran. I have heard this statement from President Obama as well," Olmert said.