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From CNN.com, November 17, 2003 

Sharon seeks Berlusconi's help

 

ROME, Italy (Reuters) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon arrived in Rome on Monday to enlist Italy's help in fending off European Union criticism of Israeli policy towards Palestinians and help stem what he calls a rise in anti-Semitism in Europe.

Sharon will urge Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, to water down a pending EU condemnation of Israel's West Bank security barrier and its snubbing of EU Middle East envoy Marc Otte.

Sharon, travelling to Italy two days after at least 23 people were killed in twin bomb attacks on synagogues in Istanbul, will also be lobbying for Italian support against a perceived upsurge of anti-Semitism.

"(Berlusconi) is a staunch fighter against anti-Semitism and therefore I think he will be open to our complaints and also to action that can be taken in Europe to stop this," Sharon's spokesman Raanan Gissin said.

Israel, stinging from an EU poll that found a majority of its citizens saw the Jewish state as the greatest threat to world peace, accuses many EU members of favoring the Palestinians.

But Sharon has a warm relationship with fellow right-winger Berlusconi, under whom Italy has become a solid ally of Israel despite strong EU criticism of Israeli military action to quell a three-year-old Palestinian uprising.

"Italy headed by Berlusconi has proven to be a very loyal and staunch friend of Israel in a Europe that is not so friendly to Israel to say the least," a senior Israeli official said.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom also planned to put forth Israel's case at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday. "I think the Europeans are ready to go the distance to bring about a change in the tone of their politics," Shalom said on Sunday during a visit to the Istanbul bombing site.

Sharon is to meet members of the Italian Jewish Community on Monday and hold talks with Berlusconi on Tuesday. He returns to Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

Italy has defended Israel against a resolution set to be issued by the EU later this week in which it will be slammed for erecting a West Bank barrier that Israeli leaders say is meant to keep Palestinian suicide bombers out of Israeli cities.

Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini put Italy at odds with the resolution and was censured by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana when he called construction of the barrier an act of self-defence.

The barrier is controversial since part of it is going up on occupied land and isolating tens of thousands of Palestinian inhabitants. The United States has criticised the project for appearing to seize land and pre-empt a final peace accord.

With an eye to Europe, Sharon told Jewish leaders last week that foreign criticism of Israel's "right to use force to defend itself" stemmed from a new type of anti-Semitism that effectively denied Israel's "birthright to exist."

In Italy, Sharon will reiterate his argument that the EU's role in Middle East diplomacy will be limited as long as its members press for economic sanctions against Israel and issue statements against its policies, officials said.

"There needs to be a more balanced European policy to Israel if they want to play a more constructive role," Gissin said.

The EU has been riled by Israel's cold shoulder towards Otte after he met Palestinian President Yasser Arafat two months ago. Israel and the United States accuse Arafat of fomenting "terrorism." He denies such charges.

 

 


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