|Vol.7, No.46, 13.12.01, p2
EU FOREIGN policy chief Javier Solana's hopes of brokering 48 hours of calm in the Middle East were shattered yesterday after Palestinian gunmen killed ten Jewish settlers on a bus.
Israeli F-16 warplanes and helicopter gunships responded by attacking targets in Gaza and the West Bank, as Ariel Sharon's government severed all contacts with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Earlier, Solana, who is due to report to EU leaders at Laeken tomorrow (14 December), had been cautiously optimistic of achieving a mini-breakthrough.
He had held meetings with Sharon, Arafat, security officials on both sides and US envoy General Anthony Zinni in a bid to win a period of calm.
The bus attack was a "big blow", one of Solana's aides told European Voice.
The Palestinian Authority had earlier pledged to close the offices of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but Israel said that was too little too late now and that Arafat had made himself "irrelevant".
Despite the latest developments, Solana has vowed to continue working towards achieving a cease fire. Last night he discussed the setback with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in Berlin.
"The Middle East is not a question that we're going to walk away from," said one official, after hearing of the attack.
"One has to be prepared for bitter disappointments."
Prior to yesterday's bus attack, the major cause of hope was what one official called the "massive change in atmosphere" during talks between Solana and Sharon in Jerusalem, compared to the frosty reception the Israeli premier gave to last month's EU 'peace mission' to the region led by Belgium's Guy Verhofstadt.
The more positive mood detected this week had been partly attributed to Israel's approval of the statement issued by the Union's foreign ministers on Monday, which expressly demanded that Arafat dismantle "terrorist networks" and an end the 14-month-old uprising or intifada.
Javier Solana's hopes of brokering 48 hours of calm in the Middle East were shattered on 12 December 2001 after Palestinian gunmen killed ten Jewish settlers on a bus.
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