BRUSSELS (AP) — Europe's political view of the Mideast has changed profoundly because of Israel's plans to build 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, Sweden's foreign minister said Monday.
The Israeli plans have caused "extreme concern" in the 27-nation EU, Sweden's Carl Bildt said as EU foreign ministers gathered to discuss the situation.
He referred in particular to Israel's E1 project, which would separate the West Bank from east Jerusalem and drive a wedge between the northern and southern flanks of the West Bank.
"What the Israelis did on E1 has shifted opinions in Europe," Bildt said as he arrived for the meeting. "I don't think the Israelis are aware of this."
The EU views any Israeli settlements on territory occupied during the 1967 Mideast war as a breach of international law.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he expected "the entire EU will be strongly opposed" to the settlement building.
The EU foreign ministers will also consider the crisis in Syria, where activists say more than 40,000 people have died since an uprising began in March 2011 against President Bashar Assad's regime.
Hague said foreign ministers would be briefed by Mouaz al-Khatib, a moderate cleric who heads the new, Western-backed opposition coalition in Syria. Hard-line Islamist groups in the country have not joined the new coalition. Al-Khatib is expected to speak about attempts to unify the Syrian opposition as the coalition seeks greater diplomatic recognition.
The EU does not itself offer formal recognition — that is left to the individual member countries — but it has said the coalition is a legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
Bildt said it was important for EU foreign ministers to send a message of strong support to the opposition, and also to Lakdhar Brahimi, the joint U.N.-Arab League peace envoy for Syria, who Bildt said has been making "good progress."
Bildt said Syria's chemical weapons would be discussed, as well.
"In a situation of chaos, it is exceedingly dangerous if these things start floating around in the region," he said.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said many members have been urging the EU to move on bringing war crimes charges against Assad.
"We must recognize the terrible situation in Syria and the responsibility he bears for it," Ashton said.
Syria is not a party to the International Criminal Court and the U.N. Security Council has not referred the conflict to the war crimes tribunal.
Also Monday, the foreign ministers approved the concept of an EU noncombat training mission in Mali, where the central government has lost control of the northern part of the African nation to armed Islamist groups.
The U.S. and the European Union want the Malian army and other African troops to be properly trained before they try to retake the north.
The move allows EU military planners to start preparations for the mission, which would provide instruction to the Malian military. Another council decision will be needed before the Mail mission is deployed.
Don Melvin can be reached at http://twitter.com/Don_Melvin.