Europe's High Representative on Human Rights Catherine Ashton is to visit Gaza next week to gauge the humanitarian situation there.

International aid organisations are increasingly concerned about living conditions there in the aftermath of last year's Israeli incursions into Gaza and the subsequent blockade.

Ms Ashton is to travel from Israel to Gaza after being granted permission by the Israeli authorities.

Permission has also been granted to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Several other foreign politicians, including Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin, had been denied permission by Israel. He visited Gaza after entering from Egypt last month.

Following the visit Minister Martin described the blockade as an 'inhumane ... siege' and said it was 'very counter-productive to a peace process'.

Ms Ashton is expected to visit Gaza on next Tuesday as part of a four-day visit to the Middle East.