EU calls for ‘pauses’ in Gaza fighting amid doubts over bloc’s influence

EU calls for ‘pauses’ in Gaza fighting amid doubts over bloc’s influence

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference on the second and last day of a European Union summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on Oct. 27, 2023. Macron said he would help to build a "humanitarian coalition" for Palestinians in Gaza. PHOTO/COURTESY: VOA

French President Emmanuel Macron said he would help to build a “humanitarian coalition” to offer support to Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, following a two-day summit of European Union leaders in Brussels that wrapped up Friday.

“We are going to build a humanitarian coalition with several European countries, particularly Cyprus, which will serve as a base for the humanitarian sea corridor,” Macron told reporters.

Helicopter carrier

France announced on Thursday it was deploying a helicopter carrier to support hospitals in Gaza.

Macron reiterated calls for Israel to protect civilian lives as it targets Hamas fighters in Gaza after the militant group staged a cross-border attack October 7, killing more than 1,400 Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Palestinian health officials said more than 7,000 people have been killed in Israeli airstrikes since the latest fighting began, including thousands of children. More than 600,000 people have been made homeless.

“We consider that in the case of a total blockade or indiscriminate shelling — or worse, a massive ground operation — it is not possible to offer the required protection to the civilian population,” Macron said.

“We think that a humanitarian pause would now be useful in order to protect people on the ground who have been victims of shelling.”

Macron earlier suggested that the international coalition of nations that came together to fight the Islamic State terror group in Iraq and Syria could help Israel tackle Hamas militants.

EU statement

In a statement issued following the summit, EU leaders called for humanitarian “corridors and pauses” to help bring in relief for the population of Gaza.

“Hamas has provoked a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. For the Commission, it is very important that we continue to intensify our efforts to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The aid needs to reach Gaza unhindered and quickly,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at a press conference Thursday.

EU divisions

Europe has backed Israel’s right to defend itself in line with international law, but analysts say the conflict has exposed internal divisions in the bloc.

“We’ve got some sort of agreement. It does paper over the cracks,” said Ian Bond, director of foreign policy at the Center for European Reform.

“It took them some time to agree on the eventual formula. They seem to have spent a long time arguing about whether there should be a ‘pause’ for humanitarian purposes, or ‘pauses.’ A lot of people apparently thought that the former sounded a bit too close to a ceasefire, which they didn't want to call for,” Bond said.

Peace conference

The EU called for renewed focus on a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict. The bloc also proposed that an international peace conference should take place as soon as possible.

Israel shows little willingness to pause its bombardment of Hamas targets, and the EU’s statement is unlikely to have a big impact, Bond said.

“The reality in any case is that the EU's influence over Israel in particular has been quite limited for quite a long time, particularly under the [Israeli] Netanyahu government. He is clearly not a fan of the EU, and so I’m not sure that he will have been all that interested in whether they called for ‘a pause’ or ‘pauses,’ ” Bond said.

Ukraine aid

The European Union also discussed a further four-year, $53 billion support package for Ukraine as it fights Russia’s invasion, although final agreement on the details is not expected until December.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a longtime critic of Western assistance to Ukraine, said he was seeking stronger justification for the aid proposal before he could agree to it.

Orban met Russian President Vladimir Putin last week in Moscow, prompting widespread criticism from Western allies. Meanwhile, the newly elected Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico cited corruption concerns in Ukraine.

Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar criticized both their positions. “If we don't stop Putin in Ukraine, he won't stop there. So, it is a threat to all of us,” he said.

Most EU states strongly support the continuation of military and financial assistance to Kyiv, Bond said.

“I wouldn't exaggerate the divisions in the EU. Orban says a lot publicly, but he tends not to block consensus in the European Council on assistance to Ukraine.

“Most member states are still firmly behind Ukraine, firmly behind aid for Ukraine and supportive of Ukraine's ambitions to become a member of the European Union and to start accession negotiations, probably in the new year,” Bond told VOA.

Gaza distraction

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the EU would not be distracted in its support for Ukraine by the conflict in the Middle East.

“In my last contact with [Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy], a telephone conversation I had with him, I assured that our support for Ukraine will not diminish and will not be affected by the fact that we now have this bitter new problem created by the terrible, brutal attack by Hamas on Israel and many citizens there,” Scholz said at a press conference Friday.

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European Union Emmanuel Macron Gaza War

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