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21st Jun 2021

Hungary gags EU on Gaza war in latest veto

  • Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjártó (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Twenty six European countries, but not the EU, have urged a ceasefire on Gaza, after Hungary, once again, undermined unanimity.

"The priority is the immediate cessation of all violence and the implementation of a ceasefire," EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said in Brussels on Tuesday (18 May).

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  • EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

"The second is to consider that the upsurge of violence in the last days has led to a high number of civilian casualties ... and that this is unacceptable," he added.

He also condemned rocket attacks by Hamas, the militant Palestinian group which rules Gaza, and said Israel had a right to defend itself.

That was his "intellectual takeaway" on the majority view after holding an emergency video-conference with EU foreign ministers earlier the same day.

"But I do not want to mislead you, I do not want to present what happened today as if all the member states had the same general sense of the discussion," Borrell noted.

"Surely you can guess easily, it is about Hungary. But it is not a novelty," he said, referring to Hungary's track record of vetoing EU criticism of its foreign allies China, Israel, and Russia.

"Frankly, I find it difficult to understand how you cannot agree with them [the 26 countries' remarks on Gaza]," Borrell said.

"But that's the way it is and I have no choice but to take note," he said.

Israeli shelling and airstrikes have so far killed over 210 people in Gaza and displaced over 50,000.

They have also destroyed hospitals, schools, water-sanitation facilities, and whole apartment blocks.

Hamas rockets have killed 12 Israelis.

And fresh clashes erupted in Jerusalem and Ramallah on Tuesday, where Israeli troops fired live ammunition, killing a Palestinian man and wounding 70 others.

"Israeli forces have displayed a shocking disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians ... in attacks that may amount to war crimes," the London-based charity Amnesty International said.

"I'm sure that all of our enemies ... see the price we are exacting for the aggression against us," Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

For its part, Cyprus voiced dismay about EU disunity.

"The European Union should have, right now, a leading role [in ending the crisis]. It doesn't have that role, either because of differences in approach by member states or because there is no strategic approach from Brussels," Cypriot foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides said on Cypriot TV.

Borrell admitted Europe had done too little to stymie the root causes of the conflict.

"The European Union ... [has] been looking the other way, hoping that the problem will be solved by itself. Well, this is not the case," he said.

"One of the reasons for the dramatic situation today is precisely because there is no perspective for a political process," French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also said in Paris.

"The images [from the Gaza war] are terrible and cannot leave anyone indifferent," he added.

"Each day brings greater risks: the risk of the conflict spreading to the West Bank, the risk of violence inside Israel itself, the risk that the conflict becomes a regional one," Le Drian said.

"The weapons must finally fall silent," German foreign minister Heiko Maas also said.

"We must use our relationships with both sides to encourage confidence-building steps," Maas added.

"We can try to get a ceasefire, then provide humanitarian aid, and then see what can be done to restart the Middle East peace process," the Maltese foreign minister, Evarist Bartolo, told the Reuters news agency.

Hungary's line

But all that left Hungary to say its 26 EU allies were wrong.

"I have a general problem with these European statements on Israel ... These are usually very much one-sided and these statements do not help," Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjártó told the AFP news agency on Tuesday.

"EU diplomacy should not consist only of judgements, negative statements, and sanctions," he said.

"I think less judgment, less lecturing, less criticism, less interference and more pragmatic cooperation could give back a lot of strength to the European Union," Szijjártó added.

Hungary, on 10 May, also vetoed an EU statement about China's crackdown on Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters, citing similar reasons.

Borrell, at the time, said: "We will continue working [on Hungary's objections] for one more week ... just one more week".

"If unanimity is not reached ... we will have to take a position which does not reflect unanimity," Borrell said.

But there was new EU-26 statement on Hong Kong out yet as of Wednesday morning, eight days later.

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