• Children at play in Gaza before the current hostilities broke out (Photo: un.org)

EU defends Israel's Gaza incursion

22.07.14 @ 20:14

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - EU countries have defended Israel’s use of force in Gaza, but blamed it for harming peace prospects in the longer term.

Foreign ministers in a joint statement on Tuesday (22 July) said they are “appalled by the human cost” of some parts of “the Israeli military operation”, which has killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians.

But they “recognised Israel's legitimate right to defend itself”, while blaming Hamas, the militant group which rules Gaza, for “indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel”, in what they described as “criminal and unjustifiable acts”.

They also gave credence to Israeli claims that Hamas is urging civilians “to provide themselves as human shields.”

At the same time, they castigated Israel’s years-long blockade of Gaza and its decades-long settlement expansion programme in the West Bank as the root causes of the conflict.

The ministers said: “This tragic escalation of hostilities confirms again the unsustainable nature of the status quo with regard to the situation in the Gaza Strip.”

They added that: “A fundamental change of policy on these negative developments [settlement expansion] is necessary to prevent the irreversible loss of the two state solution.”

For her part, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said the Ukraine crisis has not overshadowed EU diplomacy in the Middle East.

“You know how many times I’ve visited the region [the Middle East] and my huge support to the people of that region”, she told press in Brussels.

French FM Laurent Fabius and Belgium’s Didier Reynders also said Europe should play a leading role on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Fabius said “massacres exacerbate hatred among the two populations”, while Reynders called for the EU to appoint a new special envoy for the Middle East Peace Process.

Events in the EU’s southern neighbourhood have already spilled into Europe in the form of young European Muslims who go to fight in Iraq or Syria and return home as radicals.

France, Germany, and Italy on Tuesday noted the Gaza fighting has seen a surge in “anti-Semitic” protests in EU states.

"Anti-Semitic rhetoric and hostility against Jews, attacks on people of Jewish belief and synagogues have no place in our societies”, they said in a joint communique.

They promised to respect the right to free assembly. But they added that “acts and statements that cross the line to anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia”, will not be tolerated.