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By Max Delany
EU leaders on Thursday debated calling for “pauses” in Israel’s war with Hamas to get aid into Gaza, as the bloc weighed how to respond to the conflict as fighting rages in Ukraine. online news
The European Union has struggled for both unity and influence in the face of the crisis that has engulfed the Middle East since Hamas launched its bloody attack on Israel on October 7.
The surge in bloodshed has stretched Europe’s attention at a time of rising doubts about the West’s ability to keep supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia.
The 27-nation bloc has long been split between more pro-Palestinian members such as Ireland and Spain, and staunch backers of Israel including Germany and Austria.
There has been strong condemnation of the Hamas attack, which Israel says killed at least 1,400 people and resulted in more than 220 people being taken hostage.
But there has been less consensus on urging any halt to Israel’s retaliatory bombardment of Gaza, which the Hamas-run health ministry says has killed more than 7,000 people.
After days of talks, a draft statement for the summit called for humanitarian “corridors and pauses” so aid can reach civilians in Gaza.
That declaration — which was still being negotiated — falls short of demands from the United Nations for a ceasefire.
Israel ‘will follow the rules’
Diplomats said Germany and other strong supporters of Israel sought to temper any wording that could be seen as tying Israel’s hand.
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“All the fantasies of truces, ceasefires, etc. have the effect of strengthening Hamas in its determination to continue its action and perpetuate this terrible terror,” said Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer.
His German counterpart Olaf Scholz said he was confident the Israeli army “will follow the rules that come from international law”.
But Irish premier Leo Varadkar insisted “what we want is the killing and the violence to stop so that humanitarian aid can get into Gaza, where innocent Palestinian people are suffering, and also to allow us to get EU citizens out.”
Diplomats from some EU nations warn that delays over finding the right words as the death toll mounts in Gaza are hitting the bloc’s global standing.
“We can feel that some in the world are using the circumstances to try to rally a part of the international community to attack the European Union,” European Council President Charles Michel said.
No to ‘war fatigue’
The eruption of violence in the Middle East has sparked fears the West could get distracted from Russia’s war on Ukraine, 20 months into the invasion.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said the EU had “no right for war fatigue” over Kyiv’s fight.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky called into the summit and backed efforts to “prevent an even larger international fire from breaking out in the Middle East”.
“The enemies of freedom are very interested in bringing the free world to the second front… We must clearly see this scenario and counter it — together,” he said.
A fracture in EU unity appeared Thursday when Slovakia’s new populist Prime Minister Robert Fico said his government was stopping its military aid to Ukraine.
Together with Hungary’s Viktor Orban — Russia’s closest ally in the EU — Fico could now form a block on further efforts to support Kyiv or punish the Kremlin.
Chief among EU measures meant to reassure Kyiv is a plan — earlier estimated at 20 billion euros ($21 billion) over four years — for a defence fund for Ukraine as part of broader Western security commitments.
Leaders are set to task the bloc’s foreign policy chief to report back on the issue in December.
There is also a push to impose new sanctions on Moscow that could include banning Russian diamond imports once the G7 agrees on a way of tracing them.
A plan for using the revenues from frozen Russian assets to aid Ukraine will also be discussed.
© Agence France-Presse