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EU to Consider Peacekeeping Force for Palestine

EU to Consider Peacekeeping Force for Palestinian Territory

EU foreign ministers are set to look on Monday at the feasibility of taking part in a peacekeeping force in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin is to put forward the idea at a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels.

Villepin told the French radio station Radio J. that peacekeepers would only be sent with the backing of the international community, Reuters reported Sunday.

"Let's see what such a force could contribute on the ground," he was reported as saying.

"If it appears that all the parties want it and that a peacekeeping force would halt movements of terrorists or act in such a way as to avoid raising the stakes, then let's do it."

He added, "We cannot watch the situation in the Middle East degenerate ... without reacting," The Associated Press said.

The international community "cannot turn its back on those who today believe in peace."
Villepin said France "is ready to do what must be done."

Similarly it seems the idea has also started to float in the United States.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, who next week will lead a congressional delegation to Jordan and Iraq, has floated the idea in an interview with Fox News TV channel on Sunday.

Lugar is a Republican close ally of President George W. Bush.

“At this point, Kofi Annan of the UN has suggested UN peacekeepers, maybe even armed peacekeepers. There have been suggestions that NATO may be involved, that the United States may be involved,” Lugar said.

Lugar views the participation of US forces in such a force as a possibility, but with the aim of “routing out terrorism.”

“Well, it's always a possibility. But having said that, I would just say this is down the trail. We have to be very, very careful about the use of American forces, whether they are to be all by themselves, whether with NATO, whether with the UN, with WHO.”

“But clearly, if force is required, ultimately to rout out terrorism, it is possible that there will be an American participation,” he added.

The French initiative and Lugar’s remarks follow a suggestion by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week during an interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.

"I would like to see an armed peacekeeping force act as a buffer between the Israelis and the Palestinians," Annan told the Israeli daily Haaretz in an interview published Friday.

Annan said in the Israeli newspaper that Israelis and Palestinians "are going to need help from a third party, and given the environment on the ground, I think it is eventually going to take a force."

Palestinians have long proposed that an international peacekeeping force wedge itself between both sides, hoping it could reduce tensions and end curfews, roadblocks and travel restrictions that have paralyzed life in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the past 32 months of violence.

Peacekeepers are "the only realistic solution to get out of this cycle of violence and counter-violence," Palestinian Cabinet Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said.

Israel has vehemently opposed such a force, saying it will not relinquish control over its security to a third party, particularly one backed by the United Nations or the European Union, which Israel believes have strong anti-Israel biases.

However former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, another supporter of the plan, said an armed force should be deployed once a peace agreement has been negotiated. It would take responsibility for cracking down on Palestinian militants, something Palestinian officials are loath to do for fear of a civil war, and it would "take away the need for Israel to act as an occupier," Ben-Ami said.

Annan floated the idea of sending peacekeepers to the region in April last year, and though the UN Security Council discussed it, Israeli objections scuttled the plan.

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