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EU urges end to Palestinian violence

Written by: Staff
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STRASBOURG, France, Mar 15 (Reuters) The European Union called for an end to attacks targeting EU offices and citizens in the Palestinian territories today as Israel's seizure of a radical leader triggered angry protests.

Three remaining foreign hostages kidnapped in the Gaza Strip were freed today, Palestinian militants said.

The two French nationals and a South Korean were among nine foreigners snatched during a wave of violence in Palestinian areas that prompted President Mahmoud Abbas to cut short a high-profile trip to Europe late Last Night.

Militants set ablaze the British cultural centre and attacked EU premises in Gaza.

''We appeal in the strongest terms that no form of violence be used against EU offices, member state offices or our citizens,'' European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the European Parliament, where Abbas had been due to speak.

''Nobody has helped the Palestinian people more than the EU. The EU has been, and wishes to continue to be, a donor to the Palestinian people,'' Barroso told the chamber.

The EU provides a total 500 million euros (599 million dollars) aid a year to the Palestinians as well as security assistance.

External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner warned late Last Night that the EU might not be able to deliver help if the situation deteriorated. EU officials insisted that was a reflection of reality on the ground, not a threat to cut aid as a punitive measure.

Abbas's invitation to address the European Parliament and meet EU leaders in Vienna, Strasbourg and Brussels was part of a European strategy to bolster him as a potential bulwark of moderation against the Islamic militant group Hamas, which won a landslide victory in January elections.

EU lawmakers condemned Israel's military seizure of militant group leader Ahmed Saadat from a West Bank jail as a deliberate provocation but also deplored the Palestinian reaction.

''This is deliberate tactical political manoeuvring. The future of the region is being sacrificed to the next elections,'' German Green deputy Daniel Cohn-Bendit said.

He suggested the action was aimed at boosting interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's vote in a March 28 general election.

''President Abbas has lost credibility in terms of putting things right,'' said Elmar Brok, the German conservative who chairs the parliament's foreign affairs committee, of the possible impact of the violence on Abbas's standing.

Others saw the Israeli action as a deliberate attempt to undermine Abbas's EU visit, while some criticised the departure of British and American monitors from the Jericho jail which preceded the seizure of Saadat.

''They knew there was a problem and it was their duty to deal with it. They walked away,'' said British conservative Edward McMillan-Scott, demanding an explanation for their withdrawal.

The Rafah border crossing between Gazah and Egypt was closed temporarily on Tuesday after the EU withdrew its monitors. A spokesman for the EU security officials said it was open again today, with European Union monitors in place.

REUTERS HS PM1707

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