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Europe

Sharp Words From Brussels

The European Union demands that the Israeli government not undermine Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s capacity to tackle terrorism.

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When will the violence end?

Both Israel and the Palestinian government must take all the necessary steps for a ceasefire, the European Union has demanded. In an official statement issued late Monday, the Council of Foreign Ministers stressed that both parties needed to mutually reinforce the peace process in a dialog.

"The situation in the Middle East is at a critical moment," the 15 ministers said. "The current spiral of violence must immediately cease and the suffering of both peoples brought to an end.

The EU position differs from that of the US. Washington has suspended its efforts to mediate a truce. It has put intense pressure on Palestinian president Yasser Arafat to crack down on militants behind attacks on Israelis, with President George W. Bush last week saying he was "very disappointed" with Arafat's efforts.

Brussels repeated its appeal to Arafat "to do everything to put an end to terrorism and the armed Intifada, dismantle all the terrorist networks and arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of terrorist acts". The Council said it "firmly condemns" the most recent terrorist attacks in Jerusalem against innocent civilians.

But in their conclusions, the ministers pointed out Arafat's significant role. "Israel needs the Palestinian Authority and its elected President as a partner to negotiate with, both in order to eradicate terrorism and to work towards peace." The Palestinian capacity to fight terrorism must not be weakened, they said.

US support of Israel could make matters worse

The Foreign Ministers demanded that the Israeli government "withdraw its military forces and stop the extra-judicial executions, lift the closures and all the restrictions imposed on the Palestinian people and its leadership".

Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh sharply criticized the US for publicly siding with the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"I think it is very dangerous if the United States is supportive of the Israeli government and of the confrontation Sharon has tried to use in the latest weeks instead of supporting peace talks," she said. "The only way to go forward is to continue the peace talks, and if we deny Arafat and deny the Palestinian Authority we just increase the tensions in the region."

Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was more reserved in his remarks. "We are all being called on to open the path to negotiations with determination," he said. His French counterpart Hubert Vedrine added: "This is not the time to give up."

The Council said the EU, the US, the Russian Federation and the Arab countries most concerned need to urgently help re-open the way to political negotiations.

Destruction of EU-funded projects

The EU also said it was concerned about the destruction of Palestinian infrastructure, some of which had been financed by the European Union. It said these facilities helped Palestinians "in their economic, social, humanitarian development" and urged the Israeli government to stop these actions. It said it would reserve the right to claim reparation.

According to the body, the EU Spanish presidency will be sending a letter to the Israeli Minister for Foreign Affairs, Shimon Peres, to express their concern. "The Union considers that there is absolutely no link between the struggle against terrorism and the destruction of projects financed by European taxpayers to improve the life of the Palestinians," one diplomat said.

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