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EU Supports Powell's Peace Mission in Mideast - 2002-04-15


European Union foreign ministers have buried talk of imposing sanctions on Israel for its West Bank offensive and instead rallied behind U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's peace mission.

Diplomats say the majority of EU ministers see backing the efforts of Secretary Powell for a political solution as the best option at the moment.

Spain holds the EU presidency, and Spanish foreign minister Josep Pique spoke for the meeting through an interpreter. "We now are waiting to see what happens from Powell's visit," he said. "We hope he will have a successful visit. He has our full support. We hope he will achieve his aims."

The Spanish foreign minister sidestepped the matter of sanctions on Israel, saying there is debate on such issues, but Secretary Powell's efforts now take precedence. Diplomats said Germany and Britain strongly opposed sanctions.

On the question of an arms embargo on Israel and the Palestinians, he said EU countries are applying their code of conduct on trade in weapons. He gave no details, but Germany has reportedly interrupted the shipment to Israel of spare parts for tanks.

The European Parliament last week called for sanctions and an arms embargo. The vote was seen as an expression of public opinion in Europe, where there have been a number of anti-Israeli demonstrations.

Pique also said he expects a meeting of the EU Mediterranean conference in Valencia, Spain next week to take place despite recent developments. The conference brings together the EU, a number of Arab countries and Israel, and reports say Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres may attend.

Concerning the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories, the Spanish foreign minister spoke out strongly, describing it as "unbearable." International aid groups say it is very difficult to get medical and other supplies through to Palestinians in sections where the Israeli military has sealed off areas or otherwise limited free movement.

Israel says its military operations in Palestinian areas are targeting terrorists and the infrastructure that supports them. Israel acted after a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings in the Jewish state.

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