Wednesday

20th Nov 2019

Ashton: West Bank killings aimed at peace talks

  • Catherine Ashton has appealed for restraint from "both sides" after the Hamas-claimed killing (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The gunning down of four Israeli civilians in the West Bank on Tuesday (31 August) must not derail the new round of Middle East peace talks, the EU has said.

"With this unacceptable attack, the enemies of peace have tried to derail the Middle East peace talks ... It is imperative that both parties keep calm and exercise restraint even through difficult times," the union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said in a communique issued during a high-level trip to China.

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Palestinian militant group Hamas on Tuesday claimed responsibility for shooting the four people, including grandparents Yitzhak and Tali Ames and another woman believed to be pregnant. The group was attacked while traveling by car near the settlement of Kiryat Arba on Israeli-occupied Palestinian land. Israeli authorities told local press the victims may have been killed at close range after their vehicle was forced off the road.

The incident comes as Israeli and Palestinian leaders arrived in Washington the same day ahead of a White House dinner on Thursday designed to restart bilateral talks after a 20-month-long hiatus.

Speaking by phone from Gaza to EUobserver last week, a Hamas spokesman, Ghazi Hamad, said the group should not have been excluded from the talks and defended its doctrine of violent resistance.

"The fatal mistake of the Quartet and the EU is to consider Hamas as a terrorist organisation. When I make the comparison how many people have been killed by Hamas [in recent months] and how many by Israel in the last war, almost 2,000 people - tell me who is the terrorist?" he said, referring to the EU-Russia-UN-US body handling the crisis and Israel's attack on Gaza in 2009.

"We are under occupation. We have the right to resist."

The Hamas-claimed killing has led right-wing Israeli settler groups and MPs to call for an immediate suspension of the Washington event. It has also taken attention away from the Palestinian Authority's call for Israel to halt settlement building if the talks are to succeed.

The US on Tuesday evening remained confident the negotiations will make progress.

"We are also ... cognisant that there may well be actors in the region who are deliberately making these kinds of attacks in order to try to sabotage the process," state department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said. "We've gone 20 months without direct negotiation. We're not going to solve everything on Thursday. What we want to see is a commitment to aggressively pursue these negotiations."

Ms Ashton was earlier this week criticised by France for going to China instead of to the hastily-arranged Washington dinner.

A senior German MEP, centre-right deputy Elmar Brok, on Tuesday defended Ms Ashton's decision, saying: "I know how difficult it would be to cancel the Chinese at the last minute."

He urged the Quartet to work together closely rather than letting one party take a clear lead: "The Palestinians don't fully trust the Americans. The Israelis don't fully trust the Europeans. The Russians have relations with neighbouring countries in the region. But together, they may be able to achieve something."

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