U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has gotten an unusual joint endorsement from the United Nations, the European Union and Russia for his Middle East peace mission. The four parties, meeting in Madrid, called for immediate Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities and decisive action by the Palestinians to curb terrorism.
The gravity of the situation was reflected in the crisis meeting involving Mr. Powell, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, EU chief diplomat Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.
Their joint statement said there is no military solution to the conflict. It urged a halt to Israeli military operations, a meaningful cease-fire, and the maximum possible effort by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to stop terror attacks against innocent Israelis.
Mr. Powell told reporters the violence is jeopardizing prospects for a two state Middle East peace settlement. "It is totally destabilizing the region and it is destroying that vision," he said. "And so our call today is for violence to end and response to violence to end, withdrawal from the current incursion that the Israeli government is conducting as a way of moving forward with all of us united - the Palestinian people, the international community, the Israeli people - all committed to a vision of two-states: a Jewish state called Israel, a Palestinian state called Palestine, living behind secure recognized borders in peace with one another. And the violence that we are now seeing detracts from that vision," emphasized Secretary Powell.
The four parties also expressed "grave concern" about attacks into northern Israel from Lebanon, by pro-Iranian Hezbollah guerrillas. They said the current Israeli-Palestinian fighting should not be allowed to spread and threaten regional security and stability.
Secretary-General Annan urged Lebanon and other relevant parties to prevent and condemn such attacks. He noted that two-years ago the United Nations confirmed Israel's full withdrawal from Lebanon and attacks across the boundary violate Security Council resolutions.
The U.N. chief also said he was "appalled" by the humanitarian situation in Palestinian areas occupied in recent days by Israeli forces. He suggested Israel was undermining its international legitimacy through its behavior. "The international community demands that the government of Israel honor its obligation under international law to protect civilians, and that the IDF [Israel Defense Force] stop the damage to, and destruction of civilian and personal property," said Mr. Annan. "Respect for international humanitarian law and the humanitarian organization is the most basic requirement for any nation that lays claim to democracy and membership of the international community."
The Secretary of State meets Jordan's King Abdullah Thursday in Amman before going to Jerusalem late in the day. He says he will hold an open-ended series of consultations with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, including a meeting with Mr. Arafat in Ramallah where he is confined by Israeli troops.
Israel has criticized the planned meeting, but says it will not try to prevent it.