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Europe

European Press Review: A Justified Pull-Out?

European editorials on Monday focused on the Middle East: Israel’s killing of the leader of Hamas and Spain’s announcement it will pull its troops out of Iraq.

London's The Guardian asked why Israel had chosen the moment it did to kill the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, a month ago. But now after the killing of his successor, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, the paper said this was part of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plans to clear out the Gaza strip. His aim is to cripple Hamas by killing its leadership. The paper suggested this stems from Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon nearly four years ago, which was seen as humiliating. The paper said that Sharon’s government is determined not to be seen as weak again, and that the pull-out from Gaza, so generously backed by the U.S. administration last week, will be accompanied by an iron fist.

Der Standard in Vienna said no one can be convinced that Rantissi’s assassination wasn’t approved by U.S. President George W Bush, or at least generally talked about. Sharon came back from Washington with Bush’s backing for his Palestinian politics, which the daily suggested gave him a free hand to act as he thought fit. He shows no sign of gratitude towards the U.S., in fact, noted the paper, Israel is the only country in the region that gains from Washington’s weakness in Iraq.

Israel’s killing of the Hamas leader has caused an outburst of protest from Europe and the United Nations, noted Germany’s Neue Presse in Hanover. But it adds that Israeli Prime Minister Sharon is under the protection of George W. Bush, and the U.S. is the only country that matters to him anyway. Moral questions mean nothing to Sharon, who his own rules and sets his own goals. The paper remarked he allows no place for compassion.

Other European papers turned their attention to the decision by Spain’s new government to pull its troops out of Iraq.

Madrid’s El Mundo wrote that Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s decision is the right one. His reasons, based on the fact that the United Nations probably will not pass a new resolution on the issue, are justified. The paper underlines its support for Zapatero’s decision by adding that the security situation there is worsening and that Spanish troops are growing increasingly unpopular.

It was a year ago that the former Spanish leader Jose Maria Aznar supported Washington’s invasion of Iraq, commented Rome’s La Repubblica, adding that he thereby sabotaged last-ditch attempts by the European Union to find a common position on the war. The paper said the move by Zapatero to pull troops out of Iraq could strike a blow to any hopes of a new formulation of the ‘war against terror.’ Spain's sudden announcement takes us a step back, the paper said, to a divided West and leaves America standing alone at a very dangerous moment.

Although Zapatero's ordering troops out of Iraq has become Spain’s most emotional foreign policy issue, it is not the most important, wrote The Financial Times of Britain. The daily said the highest priority for the new leader should be to fix his country’s relations with the European Union.