Cherie Blair forced to apologise over suicide bombing comments
By Jon Smith and Rob Catherall, PA News
19 June 2002
Cherie Blair was tonight forcded to apologise for remarks she made earlier in the day that young Palestinians "feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up".
The Prime Minister also had to defend his wife
Mrs Blair's remarks, at a Palestinian medical charity event, came just hours after the latest Jerusalem suicide bombing which killed at least 19 people, including schoolchildren, on a crowded bus.
A spokeswoman for Mrs Blair tonight 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 today in the strongest possible terms along with all right-minded people.
"She did not and never would she ever condone suicide bombers or say they had no choice.
She was rounded on by shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram, who said her words would cause "massive offence" to the families of the victims.
And they contrasted with a total condemnation by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of the bombing of a bus in the southern suburbs of Jerusalem, who said: "Nothing can ever justify the use of terror against innocent civilians to advance a political cause."
Her apology followed a statement from the Israeli embassy which expressed "its regret 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.
"No political grievance or circumstance can justify the wilful targeting of civilians for political gain, nor can those who glorify and encourage such atrocities, teaching and preaching hatred and violence, be absolved of their responsibility for this terrible phenomenon."
Appearing with Queen Rania of Jordan at the launch of a £500,000 charity appeal for Medical Aid for Palestinians, the Prime Minister's wife had earlier told reporters: "As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up you are never going to make progress."
Mr Blair had to spend part of a brief public appearance with his Spanish counterpart Jose Maria Aznar at No 10 fending off criticism of his wife.
He told reporters: "First of all I hope that no one misdescribes her sentiments, or mine or anyone else's.
"Everybody in this situation feels nothing but the deepest sympathy for the people who have lost their lives in the latest terrorist attack.
"Terrorism offers absolutely no future, no way out of that process whatsoever. But of course it is true that we need to make sure that there is hope for the future and the hopes lie in the political process taking the place of the extremists, the terrorists and the suicide bombers.
"And I am sure that is what Cherie was saying, as everyone who has looked at this problem knows is the case."
Downing Street joined in the defence of Mrs Blair. The Prime Minister's official spokesman issued a conditional apology in response to reporters asking if No 10 would say sorry for the offence her remarks caused.
"Clearly if that is the case, then yes, but there is no need. People shouldn't take offence if they look at the context in which she has spoken, if they look at the very strong condemnation of both the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister of the atrocity today and one with which Mrs Blair fully associates herself."
Mr Ancram said: "These are most unfortunate words by the Prime Minister's wife. These words will cause massive offence to the families of schoolchildren and others whose lives were brutally and criminally ended this morning.
"There can never be any justification for terrorist violence, particularly of the kind we saw in Israel this morning.
"The only solution to this appalling conflict is for both sides to recognise that political settlement is the only way forward."
Mrs Blair and Queen Rania were visiting the charity's HQ in Islington, north London. No 10 said it had been a long–standing invitation for some years and Mrs Blair fulfilled it today.
"The charity is one which is involved in raising funds for medicines for Palestinian women and children," said Mr Blair's official spokesman, who said he had not spoken to the Prime Minister's wife since her remarks.
"The Queen of Jordan spoke about the fact that you weren't going to get progress while people blew themselves up and you needed a political solution that addresses the concerns of both sides and one which gives security to Israel.
"Mrs Blair said she agreed with that and then made her point. She made one comment in the context of a comment made by Queen Rania at a charity event, which underlined the need for a political process to move things forward."