4th Dec 2023

France, UK, US, Nato urge Israel to 'protect civilians' in Gaza

  • Parts of Gaza City on Thursday (Photo: UNRWA)
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France, Britain, the US, and Nato have urged Israel to minimise civilian Palestinian deaths, as it appeared prepared to invade Gaza and published horrific photos of Israeli victims.

French president Emmanuel Macron, British prime minister Rishi Sunak, and US secretary of state Antony Blinken urged Israel to show mercy to Palestinian civilians in separate remarks on Thursday (12 October).

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  • German chancellor Olaf Scholz (here picture right at an earlier meeting this year) struck a more reticent tone than France's Emmanuel Macron (Photo: Council of the European Union)

"Israel has the right to defend itself by eliminating terrorist groups such as Hamas through targeted action, but preserving civilian populations is the duty of democracies," Macron said in a special TV address.

"Hamas has enmeshed itself in the civilian population in Gaza" and "it was important to take all possible measures to protect ordinary Palestinians and facilitate humanitarian aid," Sunak told Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call, a Downing Street readout said.

"Israel has the right to defend itself … how Israel does this matters," Blinken, who is Jewish, told press alongside Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, added in Brussels: "As the conflict unfolds, the protection of civilians is essential".

Meanwhile, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Parliament president Roberta Metsola were flying to Israel for a visit with the Israeli leadership on Friday.

Hamas, the Palestinian group which rules Gaza, killed over 1,200 Israelis and took over 100 more hostage last Saturday in the worst civilian loss of life in Israel's history.

The Western appeals come as Israel prepares for a ground offensive in Gaza after five days of air strikes that killed at least 1,500 Palestinians.

Israel has cut off water, electricity, and food supplies to the 2.3 million people who live in the Strip.

The appeals also come after Netanyahu posted graphic images on his X account on Thursday of burned and mangled Israeli babies from the Hamas attack, in a campaign to keep the moral high ground.

Netanyahu also told the 1.1 million Palestinians in the north of Gaza to move south, in a sign the Israeli army was poised to go in.

The Gaza ground attack is expected to see Palestinian casualty figures soar, increasing the risk that Hamas' regional allies, such as Lebanon and Iran, could enter the conflict.

Macron, in his TV address, also called for French "unity" amid fears that violence could spill over into France, which has the EU's largest Muslim and Jewish populations.

"Let's not pursue at home ideological adventures by imitating or projecting. Let's not add, through illusions or calculations, domestic divides to international divides," he said, after a spike in antisemitic incidents.

French police have banned pro-Palestinian protests and used tear-gas to disperse one rally in Paris on Thursday on grounds of safeguarding "public order".

Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orbán, a close ally of Netanyahu, also announced a ban on all "terrorist rallies" in his country, according to Reuters.

The EU, along with the US and several other states, designates Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

Many Jewish schools and synagogues in France, Germany, and the Netherlands, are also to close on Friday — the Muslim day of prayer, which could see more pro-Palestinian demonstrations, after Hamas called for worldwide action.

German reticence

But for its part, the German government has sounded a different note to other Western leaders, in a politics that is still rooted in Germany's decades-old Holocaust guilt.

"Sadly, we can foresee the suffering of the civilian population in the Gaza strip likely growing further — but that too is the fault of Hamas," said German chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, who is facing elections on Sunday, warned of "a great wave of migration" coming to the EU from Gaza, adding that this will contain "Islamic fighters, terrorists — thousands of young men will migrate to Europe".

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock is also to visit Israel on Friday, while the Czech and UK foreign ministers have already been.

The EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell has no plans to go for now, his spokesman said on Thursday.

Borrell's spokesman, also on Thursday, compared Hamas to Islamist terrorist group Isis, directly echoing Israel's messaging, as many other senior EU officials have so far been doing.

But Borrell himself has stood out in EU circles by saying Israel's Gaza siege is "against international law", even though Israel vehemently denies this.

"What makes this act of terror [the Hamas attack] particularly chilling is that it did not arise in response to any legitimate grievances or provocations from Israel. It was an assault that came without warning, without reason," Israel's EU ambassador Haim Regev said in an op-ed in EUobserver.

Israel has occupied and blockaded Gaza since 2007 and killed thousands of Palestinian civilians in three previous wars there in the past 20 years.

It has also built tens of thousands of new settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, dimming hope of any future Palestinian state.

Israel's siege of Gaza is illegal, EU says

"Cutting water, cutting electricity, cutting food to a mass of civilian people is against international law," said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in Muscat.


Israel: Is revenge the right answer?

Israel, understandably, cries out for revenge. But Hamas is a terrorist organisation that makes no distinction between military and civilian casualties. Can a country that calls itself the only democracy in the region afford not to make that distinction either?


Hamas-Israel war and EU-US summit in focus This WEEK

In the wake of the shocking terrorist attack of Hamas in Israel and the Israeli brutal response in Gaza, EU leaders will hold an emergency meeting via video conference this week. The EU-US summit will take place on Friday.


Why EU's €18m for Israel undermines peace

The optics of a nine-fold increase of annual funding for Israel, in the middle of its devastating military campaign in Gaza, stands in contrast with the attempted suspension, delaying and constraining of EU development aid for the Palestinians.

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