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President Shimon Peres on Tuesday told Czech Foreign Minister Karl Schwarzenberg, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and European Union Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferraro-Waldner that the EU must deliver a clear message to Hamas not to use children as human shields.
Many Palestinian children have been killed but very few Israeli children, Peres said. This was because Israel did not turn its children into human shields, he declared.
"Your mission is not to win anything but peace," Peres told the EU delegation.
Schwarzenberg expressed satisfaction with recent progress in the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, but added that "the EU insists that a cease-fire be achieved as soon as possible."
Israel does not want to see Iranians in the Middle East, Peres responded. It was bad enough that Iran was supplying its two satellites, Hizbullah and Hamas, with long-range missiles, he said. Opening the passage to Sinai, he continued, would mean opening doors to Iranian long-range missiles, "which will mean total war."
Israel is in contact with many Arab countries who regard the situation "as catastrophic as we do," Peres disclosed.
He lauded Egypt's work as an intermediary and described President Hosni Mubarak as "the most stable person in the Middle East." Israel has great respect for Mubarak, but is well aware that what he is doing is not so much for Israel as to help the Arab world, Peres said.
For the first time, he said, Israel is not acting "in a vacuum of hostility."
"Any alternative is better than war - if it exists," he said. However, when there is no alternative, it is important that the war be as short as possible, "and to make sure that when you go in, you can also go out."
Israel exercised restraint until there was no alternative, said Peres, "but we can't keep a million people constantly in shelters, especially when we have the strength to defend our people."
Every country, including Israel, has the right to defend itself, said Ferraro-Waldner, but she objected to what she regarded as Israel's disproportionate response.
The delegation had met with international welfare organizations and had been informed of the difficulties in the distribution of aid in Gaza, she said. While she understood Israel's motivation, she underscored that in the opinion of the EU, the war must stop for humanitarian reasons.
"You have great difficulty in explaining your position to the world. You are destroying your image," she argued.
"We are not in public relations," retorted Peres. "We are in a war against terrorism. We have the full right to defend our people."
Peres then went on the attack, accusing Europe of double standards. He was certain that no European country would tolerate a constant barrage of rockets over a long period.
Bildt conceded that Israel certainly had the right to retaliate, but said not every response is the correct response.
Peres advised Europe to open its eyes and to take a hard look at the facts on the ground.