World denounces Israeli strike on Gaza


World leaders roundly condemned Israel’s missile strike Tuesday that killed a wanted militant leader and 14 other Palestinians, most of them children, terming the attack unjustified, criminal and counterproductive.

While stressing there was no sympathy for Palestinian terrorists, officials criticized Israel’s “extra-judicial” killing of Salah Shehadeh, the top commander of a group that has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks against Israelis.

But the harshest words were over the accompanying deaths of civilians, including nine children.

“This heavy-handed action does not contribute to peace,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, pointing to “the loss of innocent life.”

“This message will be conveyed to Israeli authorities.”

The European Union’s foreign policy representative, Javier Solana, said there was understanding for Israel’s right “to ensure security and to stop acts of terrorism against its citizens.

“But,” he added, “this kind of operation is not conducive toward peace and reconciliation.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was more blunt, calling the missile strike “a crime against international law and morally unworthy of a democracy like Israel.”

In a statement on behalf of all 15 EU governments, Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller noted that “the EU and the international community at large have consistently rejected the Israeli method of extra-judicial killings.

“Neither this nor any other actions causing indiscriminate civilian casualties will bring security to the Israeli public.”

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he understood Israel’s “need to take action against suspected suicide bombers and their accomplices.”

He called the civilian deaths “unacceptable and counterproductive” and extended his sympathies to the families of the victims.

His Norwegian counterpart, Jan Petersen, said the “violent actions” of Palestinian terrorists “are one of the most serious hindrances to peace and must be stopped.

“But we also cannot accept Israeli actions that go beyond accepted international law and contribute to worsening the conflict,” he said.

U.N. officials also raised questions about the legality of the Israeli attack.

“Israel has the legal and moral responsibility to take all measures to avoid the loss of innocent life,” said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. “It clearly failed to do so in using a missile against an apartment building.”

Arab reaction was even stronger, even from relatively moderate countries.

The Saudi foreign minister called the strike a “horrible act” with “no ethical, moral or even military justification.

“We call for severe punishment for these crimes committed against Palestinian people,” Prince Saud al Faisal told reporters after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.

The two also demanded swift U.S. action to prevent more such attacks.

In Jordan, Information Minister Mohammad Affash Adwan said the timing of “the savage Israeli assault … raises doubts” about Israeli intentions, especially with new efforts underway to curb violence in the region.

Europeans raised similar concerns.

“There were indications as well that a possible end to suicide bombings could be reached,” Solana said.

The EU said it “strongly urges” militant Palestinian groups to refrain from retaliating.

“The cycle of violence risks being relaunched,” a French Foreign Ministry statement said.

“Clearly what everybody is working toward is how we can end the cycle of violence which has scarred the region and move toward the two-state solution which has been put forward most recently in the speech by President Bush,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s chief spokesman said.