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>U.S. Urged to Step Down in Mideast
>Wed Apr 3, 9:01 AM ET
>By CONSTANT BRAND, Associated Press Writer
>LUXEMBOURG (AP) - Declaring American mediation in the Middle East a
>failure, the EU executive urged the United States on Wednesday to stand
>down as primary peacemaker and let a broad alliance of nations mediate a
>cease-fire and a durable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
>The call came as foreign ministers from the European Union (news - web
>sites ) were gathering for an urgent session here about the violence in
>the Middle East, where Israel has launched a large-scale assault in the
>West Bank after a string of Palestinian suicide bombings.
>"It is clear (American) mediation efforts have failed and we need new
>mediation" before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict balloons into an
>all-out regional war, European Commission (news - web sites) President
>Romano Prodi told reporters in Brussels.
>Prodi said the ministers' meeting should endorse a call for new
>negotiations, involving not only the United States, but also the European
>Union, the United Nations (news - web sites), Russia, moderate Arab
>states, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (news - web sites).
>"We cannot get out of this situation with any other, partial solutions,"
>said Prodi, who heads the EU's executive body. "Further escalation of the
>crisis must be avoided at all costs."
>The United States has dominated mediation since 1993 Israeli-Palestinian
>accords. The EU, the largest donor of aid to the Palestinians, has long
>sought to play a greater Mideast peace role but has always been stymied by
>the United States and Israel, which sees some European governments as
>pro-Arab. President Bush (news - web sites) has backed Israel's military
>operation, calling it self-defense.
>Meanwhile, the Vatican (news - web sites ) warned Wednesday of the
>"dramatic situation" in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, where Israeli
>troops took control on Tuesday and battled Palestinian gunmen, some of
>whom fled into the Church of the Nativity, marking the site where
>tradition says Jesus was born.
>Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the Holy See expresses
>"unequivocal condemnation of terrorism, from whichever side it comes" and
>criticized "injustice and humiliation imposed on the Palestinian people"
>and reprisals that "only increase the sense of frustration and hatred."
>Prodi reiterated EU demands that Israel withdraw from the West Bank, end
>its siege of Yasser Arafat (news - web sites)'s headquarters in Ramallah
>and enable the Palestinian leader to move around freely.
>The EU has rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news - web sites
>)'s proposal that European diplomats take Arafat into exile in Europe.
>"Arafat will leave when he wants to leave, on his own volition," said Prodi.
>French President Jacques Chirac suggested the EU foreign ministers send a
>delegation to meet with Sharon and Arafat to try to stop the escalation.
>Meanwhile, Switzerland warned Wednesday that it was reconsidering its
>economic and military ties with Israel because of the West Bank military
>operation. The government was concerned about violations of international
>humanitarian law by Israel, said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Muriel
>Berset Kohen without elaboration. Switzerland is a buyer of Israeli-made
>military hardware.

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