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EU to Asses Middle East Troubles

With the US peace process in the Middle East in near shambles, President of the Council of the EU and Spanish Foreign Minister, Josep Piquè leaves on a fact-finding trip to the troubled region.


President of the Council of the EU and Spanish Foreign Minister, Josep Piqué

When Spain took over the Presidency of the EU at the beginning of the new year, the Spanish government said that the battle against terrorism was high up on the list of issues that it intends to tackle during its tenure.

Following up on that promise, the Spanish Foreign Minister and President of the Council of the EU, Josep Piquè leaves today for one of the world’s most explosive hotspots – the Middle East.

No high expectations

Earlier on Monday in Brussels Mr Piquè asserted that "Europe must be coherent and firm in its battle against the new threat". He also said that he was expecting no concrete results from the trip, but it would provide a further opportunity for the EU to understand the situation on the ground.

He will be visiting Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the autonomous Palestine region. He is scheduled to meet with both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Scharon and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

More violence

But Mr Piquè will most certainly not be confronted with a pretty sight upon his arrival in the volatile region. He will be landing smack in another outbreak of violence between Israel and Palestine, that has been raging over the weekend.

In the latest bout of violence, Israeli bulldozers levelled several Palestinian homes in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza strip in retaliation to an attack of the radical Hamas organisation on a military outpost in Southern Israel, in which four Israeli soldiers and the two assailants were killed.

People rendered homeless

The attackers are believed to have come from the Rafah refugee camp. Israel’s military action against unauthorised Palestinian homes has provoked international criticism.

The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates that about 93 families or about 600 people were made homeless by the Israeli’s destruction of houses in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza.

The Israeli army maintains that the homes were abandoned and were being used by gunmen to shoot at its troops, or contained tunnels through which arms were being smuggled into the border town from Egypt.

Though Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has defended the army action, some ministers within his own government too have criticised the move and bemoaned the loss of innocent lives. On Monday, scuffles broke out when Israeli bulldozers destroyed nine partly-built Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem.

Cycle of agression continues

Israeli bulldozers on early Friday also rolled into the Gaza strip and ripped up the runway of the Gaza airport, which was being repaired after a similar Israeli raid last December.

Palestinian security officials also said a militant member of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement has been killed in an explosion in the West Bank city of Tulkarm on Monday, when a booby-trap bomb planted near his house went off this morning. He was wanted by Israel for murder.

Who to believe?

Mr Piquè has a tricky problem on his hands – distinguishing between who the terrorists are and who the oppressed. Israel claims to be fighting Palestinian "terrorists" and maintains that it has declared its own war against terrorism.

Following the EU’s commitment to weed out terrorism, would mean in theory approving of Israel’s drive against militant Palestinians.

But in earlier comments, Mr Piquè has come out strongly against Israel’s terror tactics.

He has criticised Israel’s retaliatory measures of razing Palestinian homes in the Gaza strip. He also told the "Al Hayat" paper in London that the destruction of the runaway of the Gaza airport "cannot be justified as a part of the war against terrorism".

At the same time Mr Piquè had said that as long as Yasser Arafat was an elected leader, he would be recognised by the EU.

"The Palestinian Authority has a president elected by the Palestinians. That...is the clear position of the EU and Spain will maintain that," he said.

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