RIVA DEL GARDA, Italy (AP) â€” The European Union will declare all wings of the militant Palestinian group Hamas a terrorist organization and freeze its assets after dozens of deadly attacks in Israel, the bloc's foreign ministers said today.
The EU previously had blacklisted only the group's military arm, Izzedine al Qassam. But â€” taking a cue from Washington â€” it agreed today to block funding to Hamas political offshoots, fund-raising charities and social welfare groups, after a suicide bus bombing last month that killed 22 people.
President George W. Bush froze the U.S. assets of five European-based organizations in response to the Aug. 19 bombing, claiming they raised money for Hamas.
Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group both claimed responsibility for the blast, one of the deadliest Palestinian attacks in the past three years of fighting.
Officials at the EU head office will meet Monday to discuss details of the blacklisting, which requires the freezing of Hamas assets. They were expected to formalize the decision in coming weeks.
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said the decision removes Hamas "from the circle of legitimate negotiating partners" and is "a clear statement that anyone who uses terrorism does not have a place in the family of nations."
EU foreign ministers ending a two-day meeting on Lake Garda in the Italian Alps also reacted with dismay today to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas' decision to submit his resignation. Abbas offered to resign following a long power struggle with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Israel and the Palestinians must remain committed to the "road map" peace plan backed by the EU, the United States, Russia and the United Nations. That peace plan envisions the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called Abbas's resignation "a further difficulty" for Mideast peace.
"It is a huge tragedy that the Palestinians should be so divided," he said.
EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana left for the region for talks with Palestinian and Israeli officials in hopes of averting further violence.
Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh spoke of "another big setback for the whole peace process in the Middle East."
The EU decision to blacklist all of Hamas reflected the growing sense in European capitals that it is a single organization, not a cluster of groups and activists working independently.
France long opposed a tougher stance on Hamas, saying it was wary of cutting off avenues of negotiation with Palestinians and hurting the group's social services for Palestinians. Enforcement of an assets freeze or a ban on suspected Hamas offshoots would be a "voluntary" decision for individual EU nations, de Villepin said.
Hamas, which was created in 1987, wants an Islamic state between the Mediterranean and Jordan. It opposed the 1993 Oslo, Norway, accords calling for an autonomous Palestinian state next door to Israel.
One of the five European-based organizations that had its assets frozen by Washington was the Paris-based Committee for Charity and Aid for the Palestinians. De Villepin has said French investigators found nothing wrong with the group's work.
Also today, a few thousand anti-globalization activists marched peacefully through Riva del Garda, waving peace flags and banners as they demonstrated against EU trade and foreign policies and the World Trade Organization.
A small group of demonstrators spray-painted anti-WTO slogans on a gas station.
Itâ€™s the right decision but it still remains to be seen whether itâ€™ll reduce terrorism, Iâ€™m fairly certain that aid from the EU or elsewhere will fill the vacuum.