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2nd Mar 2024

Gaza hospital bombed as EU leaders spoke

  • EU Council president Charles Michel in Brussels on Tuesday (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)
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Whoever bombed a hospital in Gaza broke the laws of war, a top EU official has said, while warning that Middle East violence had raised the terrorism threat in Europe.

"We got this information [on the hospital bombing] when we were together during this virtual meeting with the leaders. It seems to be confirmed and an attack against civilian infrastructure is not in line with international law," said Charles Michel, the EU Council president.

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The news had made him feel "emotional", Michel also told press in Brussels on Tuesday (17 October).

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said on X: "The news coming from the Al-Ahli Arabi Baptist hospital in Gaza add horror to the tragedy unfolding before our eyes since days."

"The responsibility for this crime must be clearly established and the perpetrators held accountable," he added.

"I've just been informed of this incident. I need more information. I cannot comment", European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said.

Palestinian group Hamas has blamed the hospital bombing, which killed hundreds, on Israel, who denies it.

Hamas fighters murdered over 1,300 Israelis in a dawn raid on 7 October. Israeli air-strikes have since killed some 3,000 Palestinians.

Michel spoke to press in Brussels after hosting emergency video-talks with EU leaders on the Gaza war. Von der Leyen joined his press briefing also by video-link.

The EU summit came following the killing of two Swedish football fans by an Islamist gunman in Brussels on Monday evening.

And Michel, who is a former Belgian prime minister, warned that the Gaza war had raised the risk of attacks in Europe, following an Islamist killing also in France last week and a general spike in antisemitic incidents.

"It is a big threat, a present threat, probably all the more so now because of the tensions, the [Gaza] conflict is exacerbating the risk of violence [in Europe]," Michel said.

"What we see these days is that terror is resurfacing", von der Leyen said.

"I am not aware of any EU funding going to any terrorist organisation and it has to stay like this," she also said, referring to EU aid to Palestinians.

The Brussels attacker was "probably a lone wolf", Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo said earlier on Tuesday.

But events in Gaza "may have played a role" in his motives, since he had "shared a number of expressions of support for the Palestinian people on his social media", said Eric Van Der Sypt from the Belgian federal prosecutor's office.

Meanwhile, Michel also stridently criticised Israel's blockade of water, medicine, food, and electricity to Gaza's 2.3 million people over the past week.

"A total siege when you cut the basic infrastructure, you cut water, cut electricity, don't allow food to be delivered — this is not in line with international law," he said.

Von der Leyen said: "We're also expressing to Israeli authorities that providing water to Gaza is essential — this is a basic human right".

In practical terms, von der Leyen's officials were on the ground in Egypt trying to organise the first two aid flights to Gaza later this week to bring in medicine and hygiene kits.

They were also trying to help evacuate EU nationals and other internationals from Gaza, but not Palestinians.

"Egypt does not allow people from Gaza to leave and be hosted in Egypt," Michel said.

"They have many refugees already and they see this [a Palestinian exodus from Gaza] as a threat to maintaining the two-state solution," he added, referring to a future Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Michel and von der Leyen also underlined the need for a long-term deal with Egypt on migration-control, however.

"We must support Egypt through the current crisis and establish a firm partnership," von der Leyen said.

Their grim assessment of the security threat inside Europe echoed Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson and French president Emmanuel Macron.

"Sweden and the EU need better control of our borders … this is a time for more security — we can't be naive," Kristersson said in Stockholm on Tuesday in reaction to the Brussels killing.

"We have an openness in Europe, which is one of the important reasons why we need to keep an eye on the EU's external border," he added.

Macron said in Tirana: "All European states are vulnerable, and there is indeed a resurgence of Islamist terrorism".

And the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said after visiting Israel to learn about its victims: "Brutal terror. The execution of defenceless civilians. Murdered infants, abducted children. Humiliated Holocaust survivors. It makes our blood run cold".

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