BRUSSELS, Belgium – European governments condemned Israel's killing Monday of Hamas (search) leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin (search), with several branding the airstrike a violation of international law and a blow to the stalled peace process.
The foreign ministers of the EU nations appealed to Israel and Palestinians to "refrain from acts of violence, which will only lead to more deaths and will put a peaceful settlement (of their conflict) still further from reach."
Yassin, the founder of Hamas, and seven others died in a sunrise helicopter missile strike outside a Gaza City mosque. He was the most prominent Palestinian leader killed by Israel in more than three years of fighting.
Israeli officials said Yassin was responsible for scores of suicide attacks Hamas has unleashed since 2000. Palestinian militants vowed revenge attacks against Israel and the United States.
In a statement, the EU foreign ministers said Hamas was guilty of "atrocities ... which have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Israelis" and that Israel has the right to protect itself against terrorist attacks.
"Israel is not, however, entitled to carry out extra-judicial killings," the EU statement added. It said Yassin's assassination "has inflamed the situation ... Violence is no substitute for the political negotiations which are necessary for a just and lasting settlement."
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Yassin's assassination would not make Israel any more secure.
Straw spoke of "Israel's paramount need to defend itself" against terrorists, but if it wants "the full support of the international community, it needs to do so within the boundaries set by international law."
Baroness Symons, a minister in the British Foreign Office, called in Israel's ambassador to Britain, Zvi Shtauber, to express the government's concern over the killing.
She told Shtauber that while Britain believed Israel had a right to defend itself, its actions should stay within international law, the Foreign Office said.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana called it "very, very bad news for the peace process."
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said he was "deeply concerned about the possible consequences," such as an escalation of violence.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin (search) said the killing "amplifies the cycle of violence."
De Villepin urged Palestinians and Israelis to recommit to the peace process that is jointly endorsed by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations and foresees a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Yassin's Hamas opposes that effort and is committed to destroying the Jewish state and replacing it with an Islamic one.
Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said the EU has long opposed "extra-judicial killings."
He said that reviving the peace process will not be any "easier when you have killings like that going on in Gaza. Terror and violence is not the way ahead."
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen urged both sides to curtail violence and implement the U.S.-backed "road map" plan for Mideast peace.
"This act will contribute to increased tensions in the area and will make it more difficult to implement the road map for peace and a possible Israeli withdrawal from Gaza," he said.