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Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 22:11 GMT 23:11 UK
PM's wife 'sorry' in suicide bomb row
Cherie Blair with Queen Rania of Jordan
Mrs Blair was speaking at a charity event
Cherie Blair, the wife of the UK prime minister, has apologised for any offence caused by remarks she made about Palestinian suicide bombers.

Speaking at a charity event in London, Mrs Blair said young Palestinians felt they had "no hope" but to blow themselves up.


As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up you are never going to make progress

Cherie Blair
Tony Blair leapt to the defence of his wife after the comments triggered criticism from Israeli diplomats, prominent members of the Jewish community in Britain and the Conservative Party.

Later, Mrs Blair said she was "obviously sorry" if any offence had been taken from the way her words had been interpreted.

The timing of the remarks - hours after 19 Israelis died and over 40 were injured in a suicide bomb attack on a bus in Jerusalem - was the main target of critics.

'Regrettable'

Shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram said Mrs Blair had caused "massive offence to the families of schoolchildren and others whose lives were brutally and criminally ended this morning".

The Israeli Embassy in London said it also regretted any public statements that might be interpreted as expressing understanding for Palestinian terrorism on the day of such an attack.

Michael Ancram, shadow foreign secretary
Michael Ancram says the remarks will cause "massive offence"
No political grievance could justify "targeting of civilians for political gain" or encouraging such "atrocities", the embassy added.

Ned Temko, editor of the Jewish Chronicle newspaper, said Mrs Blair had risked crossing the "dangerously narrow line" between suggesting there could be some sort of rational explanation for targeting civilians in such attacks and justifying them.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, spokesman for the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, said: "Whatever Cherie Blair may have meant, there can be no justification for the massacre of non-combatants, such as children on their way to school, by suicide bombers."

A spokesman for Mrs Blair later said she would never condone suicide bombers or say they had no choice.

"If any offence has been taken from the interpretation of her comments, then Mrs Blair is obviously sorry," he said.

"None was intended and it goes without saying that she condemns the atrocity today in the strongest possible terms along with all right minded people."

'Deepest sympathy'

Earlier, Mr Blair was at pains to stress no offence was meant by his wife's comments.

Speaking after talks with Spanish Premier Jose Maria Aznar at Downing Street, Mr Blair said: "First of all I hope that no-one misdescribes her sentiments, or mine or anyone else's.

"Everybody in this situation feels nothing but the deepest sympathy for the people who have lost their lives in the latest terrorist attack."

An Israeli soldier at the bomb scene
The rush hour bomb killed 19 Israelis
But, he went on, it was important to provide hope for the future through a political process "and I am sure that is what Cherie was saying".

Mrs Blair was with Queen Rania of Jordan to launch an internet appeal to provide medical help and food for people caught up in the Middle East violence.

She told reporters: "As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up you are never going to make progress."

Political solution

After listening to a presentation and meeting staff at the north London offices of Medical Aid for Palestinians (Map), Queen Rania said: "Today's events are a clear reminder that both sides of the conflict are suffering. It is also clear that the suffering cannot continue.

"The one sure way for hope for both peoples is to have a political solution that will bring about the end of occupation for Palestinians and security for Israelis and for the people of the region."

Mrs Blair's spokesman underlined her support for those comments as Downing Street tried to defuse the row.

Since entering 10 Downing Street with her husband in 1997 she has campaigned on a number of issues including breast cancer, employment rights and the plight of women under the Taleban.

A successful lawyer in her own right, Mrs Blair has so far attempted to avoid any suggestion of playing a political role.

Map - a British charity - helps Palestinians in refugee camps and other areas where they say living standards have declined due to Israeli closures and travel restrictions.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's John Pienaar
"The Israeli embassy added its rebuke"
Cherie Blair
"As long as young people feel they've got no hope but to blow themselves up we are never going to make progress"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Cherie's comments
Was she right to speak out?
See also:

18 Jun 02 | UK Politics
18 Jun 02 | Middle East
19 Nov 01 | UK Politics
07 May 02 | UK Politics
08 Aug 00 | UK Politics
01 Feb 02 | UK Politics
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