LONDON (AP) — The wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday that Palestinian suicide bombers are a symptom of despair — prompting quick criticism and a strong defense by her husband.
"As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up, you are never going to make progress," said Cherie Blair, who appeared with Jordan's Queen Rania to support a $750,000 charity appeal for Medical Aid for Palestinians.
Her comments came hours after a Palestinian suicide bomber detonated nail-studded explosives on a Jerusalem bus, killing himself and 19 passengers.
The extremist Islamic group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack — the 69th Palestinian suicide bombing in 21 months, and the city's deadliest suicide attack in six years.
Her remark was criticized by Michael Ancram, a senior member of the opposition Conservative Party.
"These words will cause massive offense to the families of schoolchildren and others whose lives were brutally and criminally ended this morning," Ancram said.
The Israeli Embassy in London said it regretted that "any public statements, which might be interpreted as expressing understanding for Palestinian terrorism, should be made, particularly on a day on which 19 innocent Israeli lives were taken by a suicide bomber from Hamas."
Prime Minister Blair stepped in to stave off a political row and defended his wife, but she later offered an apology.
"First of all, I hope that no one misdescribes her sentiments, or mine or anyone else's," said Blair, following talks with Spanish premier Jose Maria Aznar at the prime minister's Downing Street office.
"Everybody in this situation feels nothing but the deepest sympathy for the people who have lost their lives in the latest terrorist attack," he said.
Blair said terrorism was not the way forward for the Middle East peace process. "But, of course, it is true that we need to make sure that there is hope for the future," he said.
Hope should lie in the political process, not with extremism, terrorism and suicide bombers, Blair added.
"I am sure that is what Cherie was saying," he said.
A spokeswoman for Blair's wife later apologized. "If any offense has been taken from the interpretation of her comments, then Mrs. Blair is obviously sorry," the spokeswoman said. "She did not, and never would she, ever condone suicide bombers or say they had no choice."
Earlier Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw condemned the suicide bombing in Jerusalem and urged Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority to prove it was cracking down on terrorism.
"I am appalled by this despicable attack in which so many have lost their lives," said Straw. "Attacks such as this only make it more difficult for the Palestinian people to realize their legitimate aspirations."
As she visited the north London offices of the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians with the prime minister's wife, Queen Rania said the bombing was a "clear reminder that both sides of the conflict are suffering."
"The one sure way for hope for both peoples is to have a political solution that will bring about the end of occupation for Palestinians and security for Israelis and for the people of the region," she said
The remarks came on the same day that CNN founder Ted Turner was quoted in a British newspaper as saying that Israel and the Palestinians were "both terrorizing each other."
"The Israelis … they've got one of the most powerful military machines in the world. The Palestinians have nothing. So who are the terrorists? I would make a case that both sides are engaged in terrorism," The Guardian broadsheet quoted him as saying.
On the Net:
Medical Aid for Palestinians, http://www.map-uk.org
— Arizona Daily Sun