19th Mar 2018

Israel urges EU to back new peace plan for Syria

  • Peres in Strasbourg - got a standing ovation, but many MEPs are critical of Israel's settlement actions (Photo:

Israeli President Shimon Peres has urged the EU to get behind his novel idea on how to stop the war in Syria - by sending in Arab peacekeepers under a UN mandate.

Speaking to press in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday (12 March), he said the world "cannot stand by when a massacre is carried out by the Syrian President against his own people and his own children."

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He noted that Western military intervention would not be acceptable to Syrian people.

But he said the Arab League has the right profile to send in a peacekeeping force under UN auspices - "an Arab Force with blue helmets" - to stop the two sides from tearing each other apart.

He urged the EU and the wider international community to "get the UN to back an Arab League mission in Syria … to prevent Syria from falling to pieces."

Earlier during a speech in plenary, he singled out Iran as the "greatest danger to peace" in the world.

He denounced it for "aiming to build a nuclear weapon" and for human rights abuses.

He also reiterated his call on the EU to "call terror, terror" and to place the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which he described as "Iran's proxy," on its blacklist.

"Hezbollah, supported by Iran, is destroying Lebanon," he told MEPs.

"Hezbollah is a terror organisation, not a political movement," he added.

His visit to Strasbourg concludes a rare tour of Europe, after meetings with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission boss Jose Manuel Barroso and Belgian and French leaders last week.

It comes after Bulgaria blamed Hezbollah for a bomb which killed five Jewish tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver last year.

Blacklisting Hezbollah would be a financial and political blow against the only Arab force which has stood up to the Israeli army in recent years.

The UK and the Netherlands have already done it.

But other EU countries, including France, the old colonial power in Lebanon, are reluctant to take the step in case it destabilises the country and the wider region still further.

Meanwhile, Israel's own credibility as a peacemaker came up for debate in the EU parliament.

EU diplomats and ministers have deplored Israel's recent plans to build new settlements in a part of Palestine that would cut it off from Jerusalem.

A group of 22 MEPs from the Green, Liberal and left-wing groups sent an open letter on the subject to EU foreign affairs chief Cathy Ashton and trade commissioner Karel de Gucht on Monday.

They said the settlements breach the terms of the EU-Israel association agreement and that the pact should be suspended unless Israel stops.

Speaking alongside Peres at a news conference on Tuesday, Parliament President Martin Schultz also noted that some countries, such as Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK, are putting special labels on settler-made exports to enable European consumers to vote with their wallets.

He said the subject is "one of the most delicate and controversial issues on the table."

But he added that an "overwhelming majority" of MEPs are critical of settlement expansion.

For his part, Peres noted that West Bank settlements account for just 2 percent of the occupied territory.

"Don't try to intervene on one issue one-sidedly," he warned.

He said that Israel is committed to a two-state solution and that "the time is now to reopen negotiations with the Palestinians."

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