EU foreign ministers are calling for the Palestinian Authority to dismantle "the terrorist networks" of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The ministers are also urging Israel to halt military operations in areas nominally controlled by the Palestinians.
Despite its efforts to gain a higher diplomatic profile, the European Union has not been much of a player in Middle East peacemaking. The Israelis, as Shimon Peres said earlier this year, prefer the United States as their interlocutor.
But with attacks and counterattacks increasing in the region and little hope of restarting the so-called peace process, the Europeans are stepping up their drive to seek a cease-fire as a first step toward resuming negotiations.
The EU statement calling for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to dismantle radical groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad is unprecedented.
European diplomats have generally reacted to Israeli attacks on Palestinian Authority targets in reprisal for acts of terrorism by Palestinian extremist groups with despair, saying they not only undermine Mr. Arafat, but also the U.S.-led fight against global terrorism.
But the ministers sought to strike a balance by urging Mr. Arafat to act against the extremists and proclaim an end to the Palestinian uprising. Also calling for the Israelis to withdraw their military from Palestinian areas, stop extrajudicial executions, lift their economic blockade of Palestinian territories and freeze Jewish settlements.
Earlier the E.U. foreign ministers met separately in Brussels with their Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres, and chief Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath.
The European Union has sent its top diplomat, Javier Solana, to the region to personally convey the ministers' message to Mr. Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Mr. Solana is also expected to meet Tuesday with U.S. special envoy Anthony Zinni to coordinate American and EU efforts to persuade the two sides to reach a cease-fire.
The Middle East dominated the ministers' discussions, but there were other issues on their agenda as well. They named a veteran German diplomat, Klaus Peter Klaiber, as the EU special envoy to Afghanistan, where he will work closely with the United Nations. He will supervise what is expected to be massive EU participation in the political and economic reconstruction of the war-torn country.
The 15-nation bloc also told Cuba the organization cannot improve relations with the Communist-ruled island unless Havana makes significant improvements in its human-rights situation.
In what have become troublesome internal EU issues, the ministers struggled without success to get Italy to agree to a Europe-wide arrest warrant that is part of an anti-terrorist package the other 14 countries want to adopt. The ministers also sought and failed to get Greece's support for an agreement with Turkey that would allow a planned EU military force to have access to NATO military assets.