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Sharon Defies Quartet on Settlements and Killings


Sharon Defies Quartet on Settlements, Extra-judicial Killings

In defiance of the US-sponsored “roadmap” peace initiative and criticism by the US, UN, EU and Arabs, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon insisted Israel could still build illegal Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory and would continue extra-judicial assassinations against Palestinian activists.

Sharon on Sunday told his Cabinet that settlement construction in the West Bank and Gaza Strip should proceed quietly, a senior cabinet official quoted the prime minister as saying.

Israel TV’s Channel 1 said Sharon told the ministers that settlement building “isn’t part of the roadmap, it’s my personal commitment.”

Under the internationally - adopted peace plan, Israel should remove dozens of settlement outposts that were not authorized by the Israeli government and would have to observe the building ban in settlements authorized by the government, in the coming months.

Sharon’s adviser Raanan Gissin said Israel would continue construction in built-up areas of settlements. Asked about the required freeze, he noted that the Cabinet, in voting on the plan, attached objections.

The council of illegal Jewish settlers (Yesha) has set up more than 10 new “illegal” West Bank outposts since Sharon promised US President George W. Bush and Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas to dismantle over one hundred similar outposts at the Aqaba summit meeting two weeks ago.

The Israeli officials label as “illegal” those settlements that were built without authorization by the Israeli government.

Sharon announced in the Jordanian city port of Aqaba that Israel has agreed to dismantle settlements built without government authorization as part of its obligations under the “roadmap” peace plan.

All Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, both authorized and unauthorized by Israeli governments, are considered illegitimate and illegal by the international community.

Quartet ‘Concerned’ over Israeli Killings

The Quartet of Middle East mediators, meanwhile, expressed concern over Israel’s extra-judicial killing on Saturday of Abdullah Qawasmi, a leading activist of Hamas in the southern West Bank city of Hebron.

The peace Quartet, comprising the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia as, delivered a more general rebuke to Israel over its military tactics in the occupied territory.

"The Quartet expresses its deep concern over Israeli military actions that result in the killing of innocent Palestinian and other civilians,” said the statement read out by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in Jordan Sunday.

Such actions "do not enhance security and undermine trust and prospects for cooperation,” the statement said.

"While the Quartet recognizes Israel's right to self-defense in the face of terrorist attacks against its citizens, it calls on the government of Israel to respect international humanitarian law and to exert maximum efforts to avoid such civilian casualties,” the statement added.

Annan Urges Break to Cycle of Violence

Separately Annan called on both sides to break what he called "the cycle of violence, counter-violence and revenge” following talks with representatives of other members of the Quartet on how to maintain their faltering peace plan known as the “roadmap.”

"I believe there is agreement that moving along the roadmap's path will require determination and courageous decisions on both sides,” he said.

"We call on the Palestinian Authority to make all possible efforts to halt immediately the activities of individuals and groups planning and conducting terror attacks on Israelis.”

However, he said, "It is obvious that the Palestinians cannot combat terrorism and end violence without Israel's active cooperation,” adding that: "Israel must make every possible effort to support the Palestinian government and to take immediate actions to ease the plight of the Palestinian people.”

After reading the statement, Annan went on, "We must address security, humanitarian and political issues at the same time. I call on the Israelis not to use disproportionate force in civilian areas, carry out house demolitions, or engage in extra-judicial killings.”

He warned, "Unless the Palestinians feel a positive change in their daily lives, including in movement restrictions, freezing settlement activities and reestablishing economic activity, I fear that there will not be sufficient public support to sustain peace.”

"Simultaneously, the Palestinian Authority must not spare any effort to bring to an end all acts of terror against Israelis anywhere,” he said.

Powell ‘Regrets’ but Does not Condemn

US Secretary of State Colin Powell for his part said the United States was concerned by Israel’s latest killing, but did not want the incident to derail efforts to move ahead with the “roadmap.”

"I regret that once again we had an incident that could be an impediment to progress,” Powell told reporters when asked about Saturday’s shooting of Abdullah Qawasmeh in Hebron.

Powell repeated Washington’s stance that such moves were only appropriate if Israel had information that the target was “a ticking bomb”, planning an imminent attack.

"We can understand the situation of 'a ticking bomb' when there is an immediate threat that needs to be dealt with,” he said.

"But anything that is sort of out of that immediate definition has to be looked at in light of the consequences it will have to our ability to moving forward,” Powell said.

"It is a matter of concern,” he said, adding quickly that the killing, which was hailed by Israel’s Sharon, should not be allowed to further complicate the implementation of the already shaky peace plan.

"We cannot allow ourselves to be stopped or allow this process to come to an end because of these incidents,” he said. "We have to keep moving forward.”

The EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who was also in Jordan, agreed the violence did not bode well for the talks.

''At this point in time, when we are about to have a negotiation taking place...this kind of act does not contribute to the atmospherics,” he told Reuters.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum meetings in Jordan, said the latest Israeli extra-judicial assassination was not conducive to peace.

''There is a plan (the roadmap) and we have to execute it. It is clear they are not executing it,” Maher said.

The Israeli assassination occurred as drafters of the peace “roadmap” prepared to meet on Sunday in Jordan to discuss ways to salvage peace efforts imperiled by two weeks of violence.

''The situation is very bad. There is an opportunity in the road map...so let the two sides implement it,” Maher said.

However Israeli PM Sharon was defiant, describing the assassination as "successful operation.”

The heated criticism prompted an Israeli official to answer back that "the Quartet, and in particular the Europeans, should know that terrorism also kills innocent people on the Israeli side.”

"They should rather pressure Palestinian Authority to make the decision to fight terrorism,” said the official, who asked the AFP not to be identified.

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