Peace process in ‘tatters’

They have warned that Israel may have abandoned the peace process, as Palestinians call for revenge attacks.

Governments are urging both sides to show restraint, fearful of a new wave of heavy violence in the already deeply troubled region.

Hamas said Israel’s actions have opened the “gates of hell.”

The European Union, which contributes the most international aid to the Palestinian Authority, has urged for calm, along with Arab and Asian leaders.

French President Jacques Chirac said the EU condemns “all acts of violence, especially when they are acts contrary to international law.”

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorism, but “it is not entitled for this kind of unlawful killing, and we therefore condemn it.”

Envoys of the EU, Russia, the UN and US, which make up a diplomatic quartet for Middle East peace, are to begin talks in Cairo in an attempt to hose down tensions.

The US has denied having any prior knowledge the attack was to take place, and said it is deeply troubled by the killing.

“We do think that this event increases tension and it doesn’t help efforts to resume progress towards peace,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Despite back-slapping over the killing in Israel, with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon congratulating troops who took part, there has been some dissent within his government.

The head of Israel’s Shin Beth domestic security service, Avi Dichter, has opposed the assassination, according to reports on army radio.

The counter-terrorism chief reportedly argued that killing the wheelchair-bound and partially blind leader would be “more harmful than useful for Israel.”

In Geneva, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner criticised the killing, saying states cannot act as judge, jury and executioner.

“Using targeted killings raises serious questions of legality and proportionality, and it is likely to make more difficult efforts to move towards peace, as well as risking further undermining respect for human rights of Palestinians and Israelis,” said Bertrand Ramcharan.

The Arab governments of Egypt and Jordan, which both have peace treaties with Israel, have joined more radical states in condemning the attack.

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