13th Apr 2024

EU calls Gaza-war summit, triples aid to Palestinians

  • EU Council president Charles Michel in Brussels (Photo: European Union)
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EU leaders will hold emergency talks on the Gaza war by video-link on Tuesday (17 October), while the European Commission has announced it is tripling Palestine humanitarian aid.

It was "of utmost importance" that the EU "sets our common position and establishes a clear unified course of action," EU Council chief Charles Michel said in his summit invitation on Sunday.

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

The talks would cover "regional escalation of the conflict", its potential "to exacerbate tensions between communities and feed extremism" in the EU, and the "risk of onward migratory waves to Europe," he added.

Meanwhile, the €50m commission boost for humanitarian aid in Gaza comes after a week of Israeli air-fire killed at least 2,300 Palestinians and displaced more than 1 million people.

The commission is still in talks with NGOs and UN agencies to see where to channel the extra funds.

Israel has also cut off water, food, medicine, and electricity supplies to the Strip.

Humanitarian aid aside, the EU commission pays over €200m a year in other "development" funding to Palestinians.

But this is currently under "review" to make sure none of it goes to Hamas — an EU-designated "terrorist" group which rules Gaza and which massacred 1,300 Israelis in a dawn raid on 7 October, as well as taking 126 others hostage.

Michel's EU summit will probably fall after Israel begins a ground incursion in Gaza.

And the soaring Palestinian deaths entailed in a ground attack will aggravate EU divisions and escalate tension in the wider Middle East.

Based on recent EU splits on Israel, it can count on full support from Austria, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.

It can expect the strongest criticism from Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, and Portugal.

But other EU nations, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and Sweden have flip-flopped.

The last UN vote on the Arab-Israeli conflict — on involving the International Court of Justice, held in December last year — gave a snapshot of the divisions.

Austria, the Czechs, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, and Romania voted No in line with Israel.

Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, and Slovenia voted Yes, while the other 12 EU countries abstained.

And the EU splits might already be on show at the UN Security Council in New York on Monday, where Russia has called for a vote on a pro-Palestinian resolution.

"Israel's actions have gone beyond the scope of self-defence" and it must "cease its collective punishment of the people of Gaza", Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi also said on Sunday.

The Gaza war has reopened old questions of which top EU official speaks for the bloc on the world stage.

The EU "High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy", Josep Borrell, does it on paper, after the Lisbon Treaty created his post in 2010.

He has called Israel's Gaza siege "illegal" and its evacuation orders for civilians "utterly unrealistic".

Michel is the "President of the European Council" and has the highest status in terms of diplomatic protocol.

His summit letter said: "The unfolding tragic scenes in the Gaza Strip resulting from the siege and the lack of basic needs combined with the destruction brought by significant shelling, are raising alarm bells in the international community".

He also lit up the EU Council in a white flag to show solidarity and neutrality on war victims.

Von der Leyen

But von der Leyen heads the most important EU institution in terms of budgetary and legal might.

"The [European] Commission will immediately increase the current humanitarian aid envelope foreseen for Gaza by €50m [from €25m]," she announced in English and Arabic on Saturday.

But she previously lit up her HQ, situated across the street from Michel's in Brussels, with an Israeli flag.

She also visited Israel on Friday and backed Israeli military action while saying hardly a word on Palestinian victims.

"Israel can count on the EU," she said on X on Saturday, adding a video of her handshake with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke of Gaza as the "frontline of civilisation and barbarism".

This prompted French liberal MEP Nathalie Loiseau to say out loud what many EU officials and diplomats have been saying off-the-record in recent days.

"You [von der Leyen] forgot an important message: Israel must respect international humanitarian law," Loiseau said on X.

"I don't understand what the president of the commission has to do with [EU] foreign policy, since she isn't in charge of it," Loiseau added.

And X itself flagged up von der Leyen's tweet as being potentially misleading.

"Readers added context they thought people might want to know", X said in a footnote to her tweet, highlighting a comment that "von der Leyen cannot unilaterally state that 'Israel can count on the EU'."

European Parliament president Roberta Metsola accompanied von der Leyen to Israel, but her parliament has no EU foreign-policy powers.


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