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13th Apr 2024

'Breathless' EU backs Israel after hundreds killed

  • The European Commission in Brussels showed EU solidarity by lighting up its HQ in the colours of the Israeli flag (Photo: ec.europa.eu)
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Many European airlines have stopped flights to Tel Aviv, as the sudden outbreak of war in Israel registers its first impacts in the neighbouring EU.

The roll-call of carriers calling off flights on Sunday (8 October) included Aegean, Air France, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Iberia Express, ITA Airways, LOT, Lufthansa, and WizzAir in a sign of the intensity of fighting.

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  • Political divisions blocked a UN statement in New York (Photo: United Nations Photo)

The Polish air force was sending military cargo planes instead to evacuate its and other EU nationals.

France, Germany, Italy, and Spain have increased security around synagogues and Jewish institutions at home as a precaution.

And the rapidly unfolding events have raised tension on the EU political scene.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday: "Israel has the right to defend itself — today and in the days to come. The European Union stands with Israel".

"The brutality of the Hamas terror attack leaves us breathless," she said.

Most EU leaders and other officials used similar words.

The EU Commission HQ in Brussels, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and other iconic European buildings were also lit up in the colours of the Israeli flag to show solidarity, while the US moved its USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier closer to Israel.

"The sight of the Commission building lit up with the Israeli flag warms our hearts and strengthens our resolve," said Israel's EU ambassador Haim Regev.

But left-wing MEPs and some NGOs pounced on von der Leyen's words as being dangerously pro-Israeli.

"Note that this [von der Leyen's statement] was after Israel had already killed 200 plus Palestinians in Gaza — no word about them and giving Israel a carte blanche for days to come," said Marcin Konečný, the director of the European Middle East Project group.

"The EU should show solidarity with all victims instead of encouraging a massive reprisal," he said.

The French prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, accused the far-left La France Insoumise party of "antisemitism" after it blamed the war on Israel's "colonisation" of Palestine.

The Polish president, Andrzej Duda, warned his EU peers that Russia's war against Ukraine was still their biggest threat.

"It [the Israel war] certainly benefits Russia and Russian aggression against Ukraine. It distracts the world's attention," he said.

Duda also rehearsed his party's harsh anti-immigrant line as Poland heads into elections.

"We will likely have another wave of migrants from the Middle East, which will hit Europe," he said on TV.

"Our security, protection of Poland's borders of course, also the borders of the European Union and the Schengen [passport-free travel] zone, becomes even more important," he added.

And political divisions stopped the 15-member UN Security Council (UNSC) from adopting a resolution in a behind-closed-doors meeting in New York on Sunday.

The US deputy ambassador, Robert Wood, told press he had pushed for a UNSC condemnation of "heinous terrorist attacks committed by Hamas", while indicating that Russia had blocked this.

The Russian ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said: "My message was to stop the fighting immediately and to go to a ceasefire".

"What's really important is to prevent further escalation," China's UN envoy, Zhang Jun, also said,

The meeting had been called by Malta, the current UNSC chair, with Valetta's envoy Vanessa Frazier telling US reporters: "Palestinian civilians are also victims in this and Hamas put them in this position".

'Barbaric pogrom'

Israel's UN ambassador Gilad Erdan showed media graphic photos of Israeli victims of what he called a "barbaric pogrom".

"The era of reasoning with these savages [Hamas] is over," he said.

"These animal-like terrorists broke into homes, gathered entire families into rooms and shot them point blank, as if they were stomping on insects," he added.

The violence erupted at dawn on Saturday, when Palestinian militant group Hamas launched thousands of rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip and its fighters poured across the border.

Hamas killed at least 700 Israelis and took over 100 hostages in the worst loss of civilian life in Israel's history.

Israeli forces have killed over 400 Palestinians in the bloodiest 24 hours in Gaza for 15 years.

Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah militia and Israel also exchanged fire on Sunday, raising concern the war could spread to the wider Middle East.

Israel has occupied Gaza and the West Bank since it conquered the Palestinian territories in 1967.

The EU has long designated Hamas as a terrorist entity.

The EU and UN also say the Arab-Israeli conflict should be solved by creating a Palestinian country alongside Israel, with Jerusalem as a shared capital.

But there have been no peace talks in more than a decade, while ever-larger numbers of Israeli settlers in Jerusalem and the West Bank have made the two-state solution look untenable.

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