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I'M SORRY IF I HAVE OFFENDED ANYONE; Cherie gaffe over suicide bombers.

Byline: OONAGH BLACKMAN

CHERIE BLAIR was forced to apologise last night after she highlighted the desperation of Palestinian suicide bombers.

Hours after the Jerusalem bombing she said: "As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up, you are never going to make progress."

Her words at the launch of a Palestinian charity appeal were attacked by furious MPs, Israeli diplomats and Jewish groups.

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

"None was intended and it goes without saying that she condemns the atrocity in the strongest possible terms. She did not and never would condone suicide bombers or say they had no choice."

Mrs Blair spoke out at a pounds 500,000 appeal for Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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

Israel's embassy expressed "regret at any statements which might be interpreted as expressing understanding for Palestinian terrorism".

The British Board of Jewish Deputies said: "It fails to take account of the context in which people are being encouraged to blow themselves up and take as many civilians as they possibly can."

Rabbi Jonathan Romain, spokesman for the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, said: "There can be no justification for the massacre of non-combatants such as children on their way to school by suicide bombers."

Ned Temko, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, said: "There is a dangerously narrow line between suggesting there can be some sort of rational explanation for deliberate targeting of men, women and children in buses and restaurants and justifying it.

"She risks crossing that line and it will cause a lot of hurt to the victims of this attack."

Tory MP Ann Widdecombe said: "Her words seem to suggest terrorism is somehow justifiable. How does that contribute to the peace process?

"In the wake of those scenes today it was a grossly insensitive intervention which she should never have made in her position."

Labour MP Louise Ellman said: "It doesn't help us get to a political solution if we try to glamorise the individuals who blow themselves up and blow others up and who are organised by people who do not want a settlement."

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell said: "Her choice language is unfortunate.

"Suicide bombing can never be justified, any more than excessive or disproportionate force in the West Bank or Gaza Strip."

Tony Blair defended his wife: "I hope that no one misdescribes her sentiments or mine or anyone else's.

"Everybody feels nothing but deepest sympathy for the people who lost their lives in the latest attack.

"But we need to make sure there is hope for the future and the hope lies in the political process taking the place of the extremists, the terrorists and the suicide bombers.

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

A No 10 spokesman added: "What she was saying is a statement of the obvious.

"There is a consensus that many Palestinians feel they have no hope.

"She is not seeking to justify the actions of suicide bombers."

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ROW: Cherie Blair yesterday
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 19, 2002
Words:552
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