Czech EU spokesman sorry for calling Israeli action 'defensive'
AFP - Monday, January 5
BRUSSELS (AFP) - - A spokesman for the new Czech EU presidency on Sunday apologised after describing Israel's ground assault in Gaza as "more defensive than offensive".
The apology came after Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg described the original comments as "a very serious mistake" but sought draw a line under the affair.
Jiri Frantisek Potuznik, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek's EU presidency spokesman, issued a statement that was published on the website of the Czech presidency of the EU.
"I would like to apologise for the misunderstanding which occurred on January 3, 2009 about the reaction of the Czech Presidency to the actions of the Israeli ground forces in the Gaza Strip according to which the operations were seen as an act of self-defence," he wrote of his comments the day before.
On Saturday he had said: "At the moment from our perspective we do understand that the action is part of the defensive action of Israel (...) we do understand that it is more defensive than offensive."
That first statement was hastily followed by another from the Czech foreign ministry, swiftly changing tack. It said: "Even the indisputable right of the state to defend itself does not allow actions which largely affect civilians.
"We call for the facilitation of humanitarian aid to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, and ... for the establishment of a ceasefire," Schwarzenberg said in that statement.
On Sunday, Schwarzenberg told reporters the Czech Republic had nothing to apologise for: "It was a personal error, it happens to everyone, that happened to me too when I was young."
Potuznik "has accepted responsibility, which is right. Full stop," he added.
Schwarzenberg was speaking as he prepared to fly out of Prague to head a high-level EU delegation to the Middle East to seek a ceasefire.
Nevertheless it was an embarrassing gaffe for the Czech EU presidency, which only took over the European Union reins on January 1 for a six-month term.
To avoid any further confusion, Potuznik's apology included the phrase "The only official standpoint of the Czech EU Presidency," twice in bold letters, referring to the foreign ministry statement.
Even in the agreed official version the Czech EU presidency stated that: "It is not surprising that the Israeli forces have launched land operations in the Gaza Strip."
"There were indications that Israel had been considering this step," it added.
The European Union ministerial delegation set off from Prague on Sunday, first stop Cairo, with meetings planned with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
"We are terribly concerned about the situation in Gaza, particularly the humanitarian situation," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told reporters at Prague airport.
"It is absolutely necessary that the violence has to stop on both sides."
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Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek speaks during an interview to AFP in 2008, at the government headquarters in Prague. A spokesman for the new Czech EU presidency on Sunday apologised after describing Israel's ground assault in Gaza as "more defensive than offensive".
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