updated 4/18/2004 7:32:44 AM ET 2004-04-18T11:32:44

The killing of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi shows the need for an early high-level meeting of the Quartet -- the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations -- to put the Mideast peace process back on track, the EU said Sunday.

Continuing violence in the region means neither Israelis nor Palestinians can hope to soon live next to each other in peace and security, said Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, whose country now holds the EU presidency.

"It is only through negotiations that peace and security can be established," said Cowen, at the outset of an EU-Asia foreign ministers meeting.

The Quartet members are to meet in early May at the foreign ministers level to see what can be salvaged of their 2002 "road map" to peace plan, that provides for an independent Palestinian state.

Cowen condemned Israel for assassinating Rantisi as part of its campaign to wipe out the Islamic militant group's leadership ahead of a planned Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

The EU fears that withdrawal will trigger chaos and violence and that Israel may move Gaza settlers to the West Bank, an option their "road map" plan excludes.

Cowen and EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten called the missile strike against Rantisi a violation of international law. Patten said he regretted the U.S. administration had not reacted similarly.

Spain's new foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, said Sunday that such killings "prevent creation of a climate of peace and harmony" and a resumption of talks on the road map.

The assassination was "a counterproductive initiative that does not help recover dialogue and confidence in the future," Moratinos added.

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