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EU envoy says Gulf conflict must not block Palestinian statehood

EU envoy says Gulf conflict must not block Palestinian statehood - Patten winds up regional tour with stop-off in Beirut - The Daily Star

A US-led war against Iraq should not put the prospect of a Palestinian state on the back burner or give Israel the pretext to deport Palestinians, a senior EU official said in Beirut Friday.

European Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten, who concluded a three-nation regional tour in Beirut, tried to allay Arab fears that a war on Iraq could exacerbate the Palestinian conflict and give Israel the opportunity to expel Palestinians to Lebanon or other Arab states.

"We can't focus solely on what's happening in Iraq; we have to also take account of the continuing bloodshed in Palestine," he said, after meeting President Emile Lahoud at the Presidential Palace in Baabda."The so-called 'Quartet' - the European Union, the United Nations, Russia and the United States - have agreed on a 'road map' for taking the aspirations of a Palestinian state from the drawing board to reality."

Lahoud, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the Arab League, had cautioned that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon intends to use the war on Iraq to continue the "extermination" of Palestinians.

"The war on Iraq has yet to start, but Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon carries on his war against the Palestinians and does not respond to world reactions," said a statement from the presidential office. "What will he do once a war starts and all eyes are set on Iraq?" Lahoud told Patten that the Lebanese authorities have taken all precautions to deter Sharon from deporting Palestinians to Lebanon from the Occupied Territories.

Patten tried to dampen Lebanon's fears during his meeting with Lahoud, where he discussed "in detail" the repercussions of a looming war in Iraq on Lebanon."It is extremely important for us to make it clear, privately and publicly, that if there is a war … nobody uses the cover of that war for political purposes," said Patten.

Patten's visit to Lebanon follows his stops in Iran and Turkey, where he discussed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Iraqi crisis. Patten had emphasized during his tour the need to provide UN inspectors, charged with dismantling Iraq's alleged weapons program, with enough time to verify Iraqi noncompliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1441.

Patten's one-day stop in Beirut also comes three weeks after the European Parliament ratified an association agreement signed between the 15-member European Union and Lebanon last year. Patten, who had earlier met with Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud, said the international community was still betting on a peaceful solution to the crisis.

"We will be waiting for the next report by the inspectors to the Security Council by (chief UN inspector Hans) Blix and his colleagues next week, with a great deal of nervous anticipation," said Patten after meeting Hammoud. Blix, who had told the Security Council last week that Iraq was not cooperating fully with inspectors, is due to give a second report on Feb. 14. Iraq's failure to cooperate with the inspectors would be considered a violation of Resolution 1441. Iraq has fervently rejected this allegation and rebutted US Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the Security Council this week on Iraq's supposed flouting of UN resolutions. Patten said Powell had provided "solid" proof of Iraq's noncompliance, confirming statements made by Blix about Iraq's "thin" cooperation with UN inspectors.

The commissioner said the EU would be ready to provide humanitarian assistance to Iraq's neighboring countries, which might be overwhelmed with refugees.

Beirut 24-02-2003
Dania Saadi
The Daily Star

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