13th Apr 2024

Borrell: Israel's 24hr-Gaza ultimatum 'utterly unrealistic'

  • EU foreign-relations chief Josep Borrell (l) in Beijing on Friday (Photo:
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Over one million people cannot in reality leave Gaza City overnight in line with Israel's order, the EU's top diplomat has said.

"This is utterly unrealistic that one million people can move in 24 hours," said Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief.

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  • European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (l) and European Parliament president Roberta Metsola in Israel on Friday (Photo:

Borrell made the comment on Friday (13 October) while in Beijing.

Earlier the same day, Israel's foreign ministry expressed "deep disappointment" with China's lack of condemnation of the attack on Israel last weekend by Palestinian group Hamas, which killed at least 1,300 Israelis.

Israel issued the Gaza ultimatum shortly before midnight local time on Thursday, as it amasses troops along the outer rim of the Gaza Strip for a possible ground evasion.

Meanwhile, Hamas, which rules Gaza, is telling people to ignore the order, describing it as "fake propaganda".

Borrell was not alone — the United Nations also demanded Israel rescind the order out fear it would "transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation".

Most Palestinian hospitals within the Gaza Strip are situated north of Israel's evacuation-order line.

The Norwegian Refugee Council, an NGO, said such forcible transfer could in itself amount to a possible war crime.

"The Israeli military demand that 1.2 million civilians in northern Gaza relocate to its south within 24 hours, absent of any guarantees of safety or return, would amount to the war crime of forcible transfer. It must be reversed," said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, in a statement.

Arriving in Israel on Friday, the US secretary of defence, Lloyd Austin, also pointedly said: "Democracies like ours [the US and Israel] are stronger and more secure when we uphold the laws of war."

Non-EU Turkey, a regular intermediary in the region, not least in the Ukraine-Russia war, called the deadline and order itself "a clear violation of international law."

"Forcing the 2.5 million people of Gaza — who have been subjected to indiscriminate bombing for days and who have been deprived of electricity, water and food — to migrate in an extremely limited area is a clear violation of international law and has no place in humanity," Turkey's foreign ministry said on Friday.

"We expect Israel to immediately reverse this grave mistake and urgently halt its merciless … acts against civilians in Gaza," Reuters reports it said in a statement.

EU voices

But even though Borrell is meant to speak on foreign policy for the 27 EU countries and European institutions, other EU personalities are taking a different slant.

When pressed on the 24-hour deadline on Friday by reporters in Brussels, Eric Mamer, the European Commission's chief spokesperson, merely repeated the EU's line-to-take — that Israel has the right to defend itself, albeit in line with international law.

"Civilians must be pre-warned and alerted about incoming military operations, allowing them to leave and this is what Israel has done," he said.

Such warnings must try to minimise humanitarian consequences, he added.

"It is also important to be clear that Hamas should not stop people from leaving and should not use them as human shields. That would be another atrocity," Mamer said.

The EU was ready to support the UN in its efforts to create humanitarian corridors and allowing deliveries of much needed aid, he said.

"We will further intensify our engagement with all the regional actors and with our key international partners," Mamer said.

Meanwhile, Borrell's boss, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, as well as European Parliament president Roberta Metsola, met with politicians, first responders, and Hamas victims in Israel on Friday.

The first high-level EU trip to the conflict zone saw them tweet photos of themselves in bullet-proof vests mingling with officials.

"I have arrived in Israel to express our solidarity with the Israeli people in the wake of the horrific Hamas terrorist attack," said von der Leyen.

Metsola said: "We are here with a message of solidarity after the worst terror attack Israel has endured in generations".

She added: "We must stop Hamas. And do what we can to mitigate humanitarian consequences".

But neither of them echoed Borrell's lone voice from Beijing on Israel's "unrealistic" ultimatum.

German visit

The German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, who went to Israel on Friday in a separate trip, also focused on Hamas' atrocities instead of trying to rein in Israeli fury.

"Entire families were murdered by the terrorists. The terrorist attacks were a turning point. A new era has begun," she said.

"Hamas' terror carries the risk of destabilising an entire region", she added.

"Civilians need safe spaces where they can find protection and be provided with essentials," Baerbock said.

The Italian foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, was also in Israel on Friday, in the southern Israeli city of Netivot, where he met with his counterpart, Eli Cohen.

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