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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 13:23 GMT
Divided voices over MidEast
UN Security Council
The US opposes condemnation of Israel at the UN
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Barnaby Mason
BBC diplomatic correspondent
The constantly intensifying violence between Israel and the Palestinians has prompted expressions of deep concern by the European Union and the United States.

A Palestinian woman grieving at the funeral of a Hamas activist
Over 30 people have been killed in the last days
The United Nations Security Council will be discussing the situation later on Thursday, initially at least in private, just as the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is due to respond to growing criticism of his policies at home.

Russia has urged both sides to abandon the use of force as a means to a political end.

But there is no international agreement about what to do.

European pressure

The Europeans tend to be more critical of Mr Sharon's tactics than the Americans and more insistent that something must be done to try to stop the violence.

EU policy chief Javier Solana
EU chief Solana condemns the violence but the EU does not speak with one voice
The French Foreign Minister, Hubert Vedrine, said a purely repressive path would only make matters worse; they had to get back to political talks.

The Spanish presidency of the European Union expressed outrage at a new explosion of terrorism and violence, saying the region was in a virtual state of war.

But European governments do not speak with one voice: Britain has recently been insisting that the first step has to be a move by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to crack down on Palestinian violence.

That is the message coming out of Washington. The State Department said Mr Arafat had to take strong action to halt the violence and terror - though it did add that Israeli military action in densely populated areas and on Palestinian Authority facilities might work against the aim of reducing violence.

'No magic wand'

A senior American official told journalists in London this week that the US could only persuade; it couldn't wave a magic wand and make things happen.

That won't wash with those who believe the Americans are more than ever biased in favour of Israel.

But Washington is pleased by the attitude of the Russians. The foreign ministry in Moscow called on both Israelis and Palestinians to stop using force to achieve political goals.

The United States is expected to block any attempt in the Security Council to condemn Mr Sharon or give the UN a political role in the conflict.

The Bush administration is still overwhelmingly focused on its war against terrorism, in which it includes Palestinian violence.

The balance of the argument might shift if the Palestinians abandoned attacks on civilians and only targeted the Israeli military.

See also:

21 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel pounds Palestinian targets
20 Feb 02 | Middle East
Dissent in the ranks
25 Jan 02 | Middle East
Yasser Arafat's dilemma
16 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
15 Feb 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
Arafat: Down but not out
20 Feb 02 | Middle East
Palestinian militants 'change tactics'
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