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Bush nod to sharon plan may fuel extremism eu fears { April 18 2004 }

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Bush nod to Sharon plan may fuel extremism, EU fears
By Constant Brand, Associated Press | April 18, 2004

TULLAMORE, Ireland -- President Bush's endorsement of Israel's unilateral withdrawal plans damaged the peace process and could play into the hands of Palestinian extremists, European Union foreign ministers warned yesterday.

In a statement at the end of a two-day conference, ministers from the 15-nation union called on the Israelis and the Palestinians to start negotiating a peace settlement based firmly on the 2002 ''road map" peace plan.

They also voiced concerns over the precarious security situation in Iraq and called for an end to the hostage-taking of aid workers, journalists, and soldiers.

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the EU ministers said ''a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace must meet the legitimate aspirations of both the Israeli and Palestinian people and must include Lebanon and Syria."

The ministers called on both Israel and the Palestinian Authority ''to fulfill their obligations" under the peace plan, which envisions Israel's withdrawal from parts of the West Bank.

The plans presented Wednesday by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel -- and endorsed by President Bush -- proposed that all Jewish settlements be removed from Gaza but would remain in the West Bank, an anathema to even moderate Palestinians. Bush and Sharon also agreed that Palestinians with family roots in Israeli territory would have no automatic right to resettle within the Jewish state, another fundamental Palestinian demand that Washington had traditionally left open for debate.

The EU communiqu offered no blunt criticism of the Sharon plan; However, prominent EU figures offered direct criticism of the impact of Bush's endorsement on Palestinian opinion.

''There are an awful lot of people in the Arab world on the whole who take the view that what this week means is that America has turned its back on what has been its policy for almost 40 years," said EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten.

EU chiefs stressed that any withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlements from the Gaza Strip could encourage greater instability if not coordinated with Palestinian and international authorities.

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