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Middle East: EU Condemns Israeli Demolition Of Palestinian Houses In Gaza

  • Ahto Lobjakas

European Union foreign ministers yesterday condemned Israel's demolition of Palestinian houses along the border between Gaza and Egypt. A statement adopted in Brussels yesterday says the large-scale demolition contravenes international law. The same statement also condemns terrorist attacks on Israel.

Brussels, 18 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Yesterday's statement by the European Union follows a well-established trend that has emerged over the past months.

While the now 25 member states once again condemn Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israel, this criticism is counterbalanced by sharp words directed at Israel itself. In the past two months, Israel has been condemned by the EU for carrying out the extrajudicial killings of two top Hamas leaders. This time, the bloc denounced Israel's demolition of dozens of houses in Gaza, which has left more than 1,000 Palestinians homeless.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said after yesterday's meeting that the Israeli action is contrary to international law and will further put off any chances of a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

"We don't think that the demolition of houses is compatible with international law, and it is not compatible either with the aim of trying to create in Gaza, after the withdrawal [from] Gaza, the first step toward giving a new impulse to the peace process," Solana said.

An EU official tells RFE/RL that the foreign ministers' discussions were characterized by "fatigue and frustration."

The official acknowledged there is little the EU can do to alleviate the situation. The official said the EU recognizes its inability to take "resolute steps" and that the bloc is trying to persuade the main players in the conflict to take incremental steps.

The official says that strategy appears to be yielding its first -- if tentative -- results.

Solana yesterday confirmed this, putting particular emphasis on Palestinian contacts with the United States.

"What we're doing is to make statements. The secretary-general of the UN [Kofi Annan] has made a statement yesterday [16 May] along the same lines. [The Palestinian Prime Minister] Abu Allah [Ahmed Qureia] has had a meeting with [U.S.] Secretary [of State Colin] Powell, with [National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice. He will be with me [on 19 May]. [The EU] will talk to him. We have been in touch with the leaders of Israel to tell them that if we want to move in that direction, which is the direction of taking advantage of the process of withdrawal from Gaza, to give a new impulse [to the peace process], that has to be done in a manner which is an impulse, not the contrary," Solana said.

The EU official tells RFE/RL that the bloc considers the recent "re-energization" of the Palestinian Authority its greatest short-term success. The official noted that it was intervention by the EU that led the United States to resume contacts with the Palestinian Authority.

The official said other positive -- if limited -- developments the EU has worked hard to foster include a statement earlier this month by the Quartet supervising the Middle East peace process. The official said the statement managed to "modify" an earlier U.S. position outlined by President George W. Bush that appeared to completely sideline the Palestinians in favor of supporting unilateral Israeli moves.

The EU source said the change in U.S. thinking had come as a result of intensive EU diplomacy.

The official said part of the change includes the renewed recognition of Palestinian areas under Israeli control as "occupied" rather than "disputed" territories.

Another part of the EU strategy, the official said, has been to carefully support the Israeli plan for a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. The official said that, while the bloc opposes unilateral moves, a withdrawal properly coordinated with the Palestinian Authority is viewed as potentially the "most positive thing on the table."

The EU source also praised Egypt's role in trying to negotiate an Israeli-Hamas cease-fire. However, the official said Israel's demolition work has made it difficult for Egypt to reach out to the more radical elements of Hamas.
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