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EU urges Israel to halt work on fence

November 19, 2003

BRUSSELS, Nov 18: The European Union called on Israel on Tuesday to stop building a security fence along the West Bank warning it would only worsen the plight of the Palestinians.

In a statement issued at annual “association council” talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, the EU also condemned an Israeli ban on contacts with officials who hold talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Shalom meanwhile said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was due soon to resume top-level contacts with the Palestinians by meeting his counterpart Ahmed Qorei in the coming days.

He said he had told US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was also visiting Brussels, the date of the meeting, but did not specify it to reporters.

“We think we are going to have this meeting. It wasn’t set up exactly but (it will be) in the next, coming week,” he said after talks with Powell at a Brussels hotel.

Qorei said on Tuesday that the planned talks would be a chance to “open a new chapter” in fraught relations between the two sides.

Official contacts have been frozen for nearly three months amid continuing violence from the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

The EU said the security fence, which Israel says is necessary to keep put suicide bombers, would undermine international efforts to resolve the conflict by creating a Palestinian state living in peace with its Jewish neighbour.

“It would cause further humanitarian and economic hardship to the Palestinians,” the EU statement said.

“Thousands of Palestinians west of the fence are being cut off from essential services in the West Bank, Palestinians east of the fence will lose access to land and water resources,” it said.

“Hence, the EU calls on Israel to stop and reverse the construction of the so-called security fence inside the occupied Palestinian territories...”

The EU said the building and expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank “inflames an already volatile solution”, and said there was “no alternative” to a peace plan backed by the EU, the United States, the United Nations and Russia.

The EU statement also stressed “the importance of open and unhindered channels of communication for all EU interlocutors” with Israeli leaders.

The talks ban “is not in line with the spirit” of the EU-Israel association dialogue, it added.

Shalom said Monday that Israel had resumed contacts with the EU’s Middle East envoy, Marc Otte, whom it had snubbed for holding talks with Arafat. Israel says the veteran Palestinian leader is the main obstacle to peace.

But EU officials said the resumption of contacts did not yet extend to high-ranking representatives such as EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana or External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten.

SETTLERS’ EXPORT: The European Union warned on Tuesday its patience was wearing thin in a long-running dispute with Israel over exports from settlers living on occupied Palestinian land.

In a statement issued at annual “association council” talks with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, the EU said it “regrets that no progress has been made towards a solution of the bilateral question of rules of origin”.

Israel offered a year ago at the last EU association council to hold technical talks on the issue, which is intimately tied to international question marks over the legality of Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

But the EU said the dialogue has yet to get off the ground, and urged Israel “to engage in substantive talks on that basis as soon as possible”.

EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten expressed frustration at perceived Israeli foot-dragging on the “rules of origin” dispute.—AFP