BONN, FEB. 8 -- Foreign ministers of the 12-nation European Community sharply criticized Israel today for what they described as "violations of international law and human rights" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The statement was the toughest by the community since violence in the occupied territories broke out last December. Following a meeting here between the ministers and Jordan's King Hussein, it said that "repressive measures" being used by Israel "must stop" and called on "all parties to exercise maximum restraint."
The community reaffirmed its belief that the most promising framework for a long-term solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is an international peace conference. In an address to the EC ministers, Hussein said that the "Arab nation" also supported an international conference, to be held under the auspices of the five nations of the United Nations Security Council.
Israel has rejected such a conference, and it does not appear to be a component of a newly launched U.S. initiative in the Middle East.
According to U.S. and British officials, the American initiative envisions indirect, U.S.-mediated talks among Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Palestinian leaders and other Arab countries on limited autonomy for the territories, with negotiations on their permanent status to follow.
The Europeans are known to have strong doubts about the American proposal.Officials from a number of governments have said they fear that the plan, even if accepted by countries in the region, could only buy short-term calm without achieving stability. But having urged the Reagan administration to reengage its energies in the search for Middle East peace, the Europeans appear reluctant at this point to criticize the effort.
British officials said their government was slightly more optimistic about the plan's prospects following a visit to London last Friday by U.S. Middle East envoy Richard W. Murphy. Asked today whether the American plan held any scope for an eventual international conference, British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe said he "didn't think the Americans have ruled out anything as long as it will take the process forward."
Today's EC statement welcomed "all efforts to inject new impetus in the search toward a negotiated settlement to the conflict," including both the U.S. proposal and an initiative by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak calling for a six-month regional cease-fire.
European willingness to extend the benefit of the doubt to the American plan does not appear to be shared so far by the Arabs. After three days of talks with Murphy, Syrian officials today rejected the proposal, Reuters reported from Damascus.
In a commentary, the official daily Tishrin said the United States "does not want to see or allow any solution which does not serve Israel at present and in the future."
Murphy is to meet Tuesday with Saudi Arabian officials in Riyadh before traveling to Israel and Egypt.
The EC meeting was part of an effort toward more foreign policy coordination among the 12 that has found its most concrete expression in the Middle East. But the joint position on the region has sometimes put the Europeans at odds with U.S. policy, which they see as tilted too far toward Israel.
In its 1980 "Venice Declaration," the community called for representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization to be involved in any peace negotiations. Last February, the Europeans put their combined backing behind the ideas of an international conference, a stance they reiterated today.
In addition to rejecting PLO representation at a conference, Israel and the United States are unwilling to allow the Soviet Union to participate in an international effort. The Europeans, led by Britain, have argued that the Soviets have a legitimate interest in the region and could, as patron to some of the belligerents there, serve a useful role.
Recent events in the occupied territories are seen as having added a new urgency to the search for regional peace. According to officials from several EC governments, some members wanted today's statement to be even more critical of Israel.
"I could have seen it stronger," said Danish Foreign Minister Uffe Ellmann-Jensen. "But this is what everyone could agree on."