Saturday

21st Sep 2019

EU waters down Middle East ceasefire call

After several hours of debate, EU foreign ministers have agreed to call for an "immediate cessation of hostilities" between Israel and Hezbollah - but France and Germany are already interpreting the statement differently.

The emergency meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (1 August) saw lengthy discussions on the sensitive issue of whether to call for an immediate ceasefire between the two sides, an idea rejected by Israel and the US which want lasting security guarantees against Hezbollah first.

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Siding with Jerusalem and Washington on the issue, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Poland objected to a draft text by the Finnish EU presidency which urged an "immediate ceasefire" - wording which was strongly backed by France and Spain in particular.

Member states finally agreed on compromise wording saying "The [EU] council calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities to be followed by a sustainable ceasefire."

Asked about the difference between "cessation of hostilities" and "ceasefire," Finnish foreign ministers Erkki Tuomioja said "from the point of view of the people who are under threat, there is no difference."

France's Philippe Douste-Blazy, who had pressed for the term "immediate ceasefire," claimed victory on the text, asking "what is the difference between the immediate cessation of hostilities and an immediate ceasefire?"

But Germany, a traditional EU ally of France, notably distanced itself from Paris, with foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier declaring "The cessation of hostilities is not the same as a ceasefire."

He described the cessation of hostilities as a step-by-step expansion of the 48-hour halt of air raids announced by Israel on Monday, in parallel with possible similar steps by Hezbollah.

"The signing of a ceasefire" could "only be reached later," he said describing such a move as an essentially political matter.

Solana in defence of Israel

German diplomats said the formula found on Monday unblocked the "dogmatic dispute" between France and the US over what should come first – a ceasefire or a political peace deal.

Another last-minute text change to the Finnish draft conclusions was made after an intervention by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, sources said.

Mr Solana insisted on having the text reflect that Hezbollah, and not Israel, started the hostilities.

The phrase saying "the council condemns the rocket attacks by Hezbollah on Israel" was moved up, and now appears before the condemnation of the death of innocent civilians and UN personnel through Israeli strikes.

A German diplomat said the textual change was important to "maintain some credibility with the Israelis."

EU troops

Member states further called for the UN security council to be "rapidly convened to define a political framework for a lasting solution agreed by all parties, which is a necessary precondition for deployment of an international force."

France, a permanent security council member, received EU ministers' backing for its draft UN resolution which says a UN force should be deployed after Israel and Lebanon have agreed "in principle" on a permanent ceasefire.

On the planned international force, the foreign ministers' conclusions state that "EU member states have indicated their readiness to contribute to such an operation together with international partners."

France, Italy, Spain, Slovakia, Sweden and Denmark have said they are willing to provide troops, but the UK, Germany and the Netherlands have signalled they are already overburdened by peacekeeping operations elsewhere.

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