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Monday, 15 April, 2002, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
EU ministers reject Israel sanctions
Palestinian demonstrators in Luxembourg
Palestinians made their case outside the meeting
European Union foreign ministers appear to have rejected calls for trade sanctions against Israel.

The ministers, who are meeting in Luxembourg, instead gave their backing to US Secretary of State Colin Powell's peace mission in the Middle East.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer
Fischer has put forward a two-year timeframe for peace
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer also presented his own two-year peace plan to colleagues.

The talks come after Germany became the first EU country to apply direct economic pressure on Israel over its incursions by suspending the supply of military equipment.

The EU is Israel's largest trading partner and the European Parliament last week called for a suspension of trade relations.

But the BBC's Chris Morris in Luxembourg says that though there is real frustration about Israel's failure to end its military offensive on the West Bank the EU is not in the mood for dramatic gestures.

No-one wants to do anything which could undermine Mr Powell's mission following his call for a ceasefire in Madrid last week, he says.

"We're not behind Powell just because we like him," said Christina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

"It's because he has the Madrid declaration as part of his brief."

Influence

The plan drafted by the German foreign minister for a ceasefire includes:

  • The withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian areas
  • The dismantlement of Jewish settlements
  • The creation of a Palestinian state
  • An internationally monitored buffer zone
  • International security guarantees under the auspices of the UN, the US, the EU and Russia.

Our correspondent says that while the plan has been broadly welcomed by EU members it does not address the current crisis.

Members divided

Under a special agreement between the EU and Israel, the latter enjoys preferential trading with the bloc.

The European Parliament has already voted to suspend this Association Treaty - but its vote is not binding, and out of the 15 member states only Belgium has backed the suggestion.

The European Commission wants an emergency meeting of the council which oversees the agreement.

But member states are divided over the issue and some, such as the UK, believe an emergency meeting would be counterproductive. Analysts say this option is unlikely to be approved.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Chris Morris
"The EU is backing intensive political contacts led by Mr Powell"
See also:

15 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israeli forces seize leading Palestinian
15 Apr 02 | Middle East
Jenin camp situation 'horrendous'
15 Apr 02 | Middle East
Powell: Arafat not needed at talks
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