Agence France-Presse – 2004-03-22 17:36:10
BRUSSELS, March 22 (AFP) – The European Union rounded angrily on Israel on Monday for killing Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, warning that his assassination was “very bad news” for the Middle East peace process.
EU foreign ministers appealed for restraint on all sides after Yassin’s killing in an Israeli helicopter strike, which they called an illegal act that would only fuel bloodshed and further hinder Middle East peace efforts.
“The assassination… has inflamed the situation,” they said in a statement. “Violence is no substitute for the political negotiations, which are necessary for a just and lasting settlement.”
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said: “The manner in which you fight terrorism is through the law. This was an illegal act under international law.
“This is very, very bad news for the peace process,” he added.
The 67-year-old wheelchair-bound cleric was killed early on Monday in an Israeli helicopter strike in Gaza City, prompting the radical Islamist movement he founded to declare all-out war on the Jewish state.
Tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets of the Palestinian territories to vent their fury at the killing.
The EU, the biggest aid contributor to the Palestinian Authority, has long urged restraint on both sides of the conflict but has had to defend itself from charges that it is biased towards the Palestinians.
French President Jacques Chirac said the EU unreservedly condemned “all acts of violence, especially when they are acts contrary to international law”.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Israel had the right to defend itself against terrorism. “But it is not entitled going for this kind of unlawful killing and we therefore condemn it,” he said.
“It is unacceptable. It is unjustified and it is very unlikely to achieve its objective,” Straw added, while calling for restraint in the Arab world.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer also blasted the Israeli killing. “Along with the EU we have always rejected these killings and described them as unacceptable,” he said, adding: “Above all we are very concerned about the possible consequences.”
The killing of Yassin dealt a fresh blow to a beleaguered “roadmap” for Middle East peace sponsored by the EU, the United States, the United Nations and Russia.
But EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten said there was no viable alternative to the roadmap, which envisages a Palestinian state next year. “You could look for other options from now until the crack of doom and you wouldn’t find anything more sensible than was included in the roadmap,” he said. “I don’t think there is some golden key out there which we haven’t discovered to unlock the Middle East peace process. What there isn’t is the political will to end the murder and the mayhem,” Patten said.
For its part, Russia said it was “deeply concerned” at the killing of Yassin. “It threatens a new wave of violence which could sabotage efforts to restart negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis,” foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said in a statement.
Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, recalling the March 11 train blasts in Madrid which killed 202 people, said he feared the killing of Yassin would spill over into wider unrest.
“I am afraid that it may have very, very negative consequences, not only in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” he said at the EU talks. “I am afraid that the threat of terrorist attacks against other countries, including Europeans, is growing.”
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