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Cherie: I'm sorry for gaffe on Israel.

Byline: IAN SMITH

CHERIE BLAIR was forced to apologise last night after she said she understood why Palestinians became suicide bombers.

The Prime Minister's wife spoke hours after 19 Israelis, 10 of them schoolchildren, were killed in a suicide attack in Jerusalem.

Cherie said: "As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up, you are never going to make progress."

The Tories claimed her comments were offensive, and Israeli diplomats in London spoke of "regret" that she seemed to be expressing under- standing for terrorists.

Cherie spoke as she helped Queen Rania of Jordan launch an appeal for medical aid for the Palestinians.

She struck a very different tone to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who earlier called the suicide attack "an act of evil beyond words".

Ministers have been careful to condemn all terrorist violence.

Later, a spokeswoman for Cherie said: "If any offence has been taken from the interpretation of her comments then Mrs Blair is obviously sorry.

"No offence was intended. It goes without saying that she condemns the atrocities today in the strongest terms.

"She would never condone suicide bombers or say they had no choice."

Cherie's spokeswoman said she had agreed with comments by Queen Rania criticising violence on both sides.

But her failure to specifically condemn the bomb left her open to attack.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram said: "These are most unfortunate words by the Prime Minister's wife. They will cause massive offence to the families of schoolchildren and others whose lives were brutally and criminally ended today.

"There can never be any justification for terrorist violence, particularly of the kind we saw in Israel.

"The only solution to this appalling conflict is for both sides to recognise that political settlement is the only way forward."

A statement from the Israeli Embassy in London expressed regret "that public statements should be made which might be interpreted as expressing understanding for Palestinian terrorism, particularly on a day when 19 innocent Israeli lives were taken".

Cherie was defended by her husband, who said: "I hope no one misdescribes her sentiments.

"Everybody feels the deepest sympathy for the people who have lost their lives in the latest terrorist attack.

"Terrorism offers absolutely no way out. But of course we need to make sure there is hope for the future and that hope lies in the political process.

"I am sure that is what Cherie was saying."

Blair's spokesman Alastair Campbell also insisted Cherie had only made the obvious point that there can never be peace without hope for the Palestinians.

But Westminster pundits said her words were badly timed at best and raised new questions over whether she should get involved in politics.

Hours before Cherie spoke, a 22-year-old Palestinian set off a nail bomb on a rush-hour bus at a busy Jerusalem junction.

The blast sent victims and body parts flying through the bus's windows.

At least 10 children on the way to school were among the dead. More than 50 people were wounded.

Terror group Hamas claimed responsibility.

The bomber was named as Mohammed al-Ghoul, a student from a Palestinian refugee camp. His elderly father hailed him as a martyr.

Many Palestinians believe such attacks are their only weapon against an Israeli regime which refuses to grant them their own state.

But Israeli leader Ariel Sharon says he will not negotiate until terrorism stops. He is expected to attack Palestinian targets in revenge for yesterday's bombing.
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 19, 2002
Words:578
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