5th Mar 2024

Israel's Gaza attack 'beyond proportionality', Norway says

  • Norwegian prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre: "The humanitarian consequences for civilians are catastrophic" (Photo: Magnus Fröderberg/Norden.org)
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Israel is breaking the rules of modern warfare in Gaza, Norway's prime minister has said.

"I believe this is beyond proportionality," Norway's prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre told EUobserver in Oslo on Tuesday (31 October).

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  • The Oslo summit came shortly after EU leaders met in Brussels on 27 October and called for a "humanitarian pause" in Gaza, which Israel ignored (Photo: EUobserver)

"The humanitarian consequences for civilians are catastrophic — the number of casualties, the amount of destruction, and especially the enormous burden carried by [Palestinian] children is, as we see it, in breach of what humanitarian norms and standards require," he said.

Gahr Støre spoke in the margins of a yearly meeting of eight Nordic leaders and MPs that was held in the Norwegian parliament, the Storting.

Israel has killed more than 8,000 people in the Gaza Strip, according to local health authorities, after Palestinian group Hamas, which rules Gaza, killed 1,400 Israelis in a dawn raid on 7 October.

Article 51 of the Geneva Conventions, a post-WW2 international rulebook, says: "Launching an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life ... which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, is prohibited".

"Israel knows that we condemn Hamas' terror and that we defend Israel's right to defend itself. We demand that hostages [being held by Hamas] are released," Gahr Støre added.

"At the same time, we require that proportionality is respected. And the extent of destruction and the humanitarian suffering happening now [in Gaza] is beyond that", he said.

The Gaza war has prompted pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli protests in European cities, as well as a spike in antisemitic incidents.

And a sea of Palestinian flags outside the Storting on Tuesday swelled as leaders spoke and the year's first snowflakes fell from grey skies outside the parliament's panoramic windows.

Protesters also played loud audio of what sounded like Gaza air-strikes, which nearly drowned out Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg when he spoke in the plenary chamber.

But for Gahr Støre, this was "no problem".

"There are several hundred demonstrations every year. Some of them are noisy. Some of them are not noisy. As long as they are peaceful, as long as they're respectful and following [the] guidance of the police, it is perfectly OK," he said.

The Oslo summit came shortly after EU leaders met in Brussels on 27 October and called for a "humanitarian pause" in Gaza, which Israel ignored.

Asked if Norway had any power to rein in Israeli aggression, Gahr Støre said: "We can speak out, we can vote in the United Nations, we can ask for humanitarian support so that help can come in and foreign people can come out."

Norway is a close Nato ally of EU and Nordic states.

It voted in favour of a non-binding Jordanian resolution in the UN in New York on 27 October calling for an "immediate, durable, and sustained humanitarian truce" between Israeli forces and Hamas.

But it was the only Nordic nation that did so, highlighting how divisive the war has been among European friends.

The New York vote came just a few hours after 27 EU leaders agreed a joint statement in Brussels, but it split the EU into three groups.

Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia, and Spain joined the large majority (120 out of 183) of UN members who voted in favour.

Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary rejected the resolution together with the US and Israel.

The other 15 EU states (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Finland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Sweden) abstained.

For his part, Nato's Stoltenberg, who is a former Norwegian prime minister, said in Oslo on Tuesday: "We condemn Hamas's terror against Israel."

"At the same time, it is important that Israel's response takes place within international law, that civilian lives are protected and that humanitarian aid reaches Gaza", he added.

But Denmark's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, took a more pro-Israeli line, even though she is from the same social-democrat political family as Gahr Støre and Stoltenberg.

Frederiksen focused on antisemitic incidents in Europe instead of the Gaza bombardment.

"It is very clear, in Denmark, that it has become more dangerous to be a Jew. Quite a few of our Jewish minorities are no longer wearing their religious symbols, even in the streets of Copenhagen," she told the Storting debate.

"With that, we break the promise we made after the Second World War that it would never again be dangerous to be a Jew in Europe," Frederiksen added.

'Getting worse'

Iceland is, like Norway, a Nato but not an EU member state.

And Iceland's prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, told press in Oslo: "The Nordics actually all agree that there should be a humanitarian truce".

"I think all of our representatives were very clear on that in New York and I think it is the key message from the Nordics right now — that there needs to be a truce and there needs to be a humanitarian start", she said.

Canada also tabled a UN resolution last Friday, which made more mention of Hamas' atrocities and hostage-taking.

This was a better text than the Jordanian resolution, according to Jakobsdóttir.

Meanwhile, Israel intensified its Gaza air strikes over the weekend.

"Unfortunately ... things are getting worse," a contact from the UN relief agency in Gaza, UNRWA, told EUobserver on Monday.

"Iceland abstained [in the UN vote on Jordan's resolution], but this is a discussion we have been having ever since, whether we should have followed Norway's lead", Jakobsdóttir said on Tuesday.

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