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Israel condemned by Europe

by: Roger Wilkison - Last updated: 2004-03-22

Jack Straw

Jack Straw

European governments have condemned Israel's killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, saying it violates international law and undermines the search for peace in the Middle East. VOA's Roger Wilkison reports from Brussels, where European foreign ministers have gathered to discuss how best to fight terrorism.

There is an air of frustration and deep concern inside European Union headquarters in Brussels following the Israeli helicopter missile strike that killed Sheikh Yassin outside a Gaza mosque.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told reporters that Israel has a right to defend itself, but only within the boundaries of international law.

"All of us understand Israel's need to defend itself, and it is fully entitled to do that against the terrorism which affects it within international law," said Mr. Straw. "But it is not entitled to go for this kind of unlawful killing, and we therefore condemn it. It is unacceptable. It is unjustified. And it is very unlikely to achieve its objectives."

EU ministers issued a statement condemning what they called the assassination of Sheikh Yassin, saying it has inflamed the situation in the Middle East. The statement reflected the views just expressed by Mr. Straw, saying Israel is not entitled to carry out what the ministers described as extra-judicial killings.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said his country and the European Union have repeatedly condemned Israel's assassination of prominent Palestinian militants.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Sheikh Yassin's assassination can only set back the so-called Middle East peace process by fueling the spiral of violence. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana says the Israeli action does not contribute at all to create the conditions for a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

"The situation is really serious and grave," said Mr. Solana. "I hope that it will be controlled on the ground. But it is not good news. It's bad news, and I hope that the situation will return to normality soon. But it shows that we still have a lot of work to be done there."

Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz says he fears any retaliation by Hamas, the militant Palestinian Islamic group founded by Sheikh Yassin, could inflame the Middle East and then spread to Europe.

Ministers from current member states of the EU have been joined in Brussels by their colleagues from the 10 countries that will join the bloc in May to discuss ways to coordinate the fight against terrorism. That comes after the March 11 train bombings in Madrid that killed more than 200 people.

EU heads of state and government will hold a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday at which terrorism will be the dominant theme.

Story supplied by: VOAnews