1st March 2024
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EU president calls Hamas attack an ‘ancient evil, terrorism and an act of war’

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement on Wednesday that the terrorist group Hamas’s killing of over 1,000 Israeli civilians in a massive assault on the country was a coldblooded act of war and reflected an ‘ancient evil’.

‘We have to be clear in defining this kind of horror,’ she said. ‘And there can only be one response to it. Europe stands with Israel. And we fully support Israel’s right to defend itself.’

On Saturday, 1,500 Hamas terrorists stormed Israel’s border around the Gaza enclave and murderously rampaged through southern areas, taking over communities and killing the men, women and children they found, as well as overrunning military sites, with similar deadly results. The toll from the bloody assault, which came alongside a widespread barrage of rockets fired at towns and cities across Israel, swelled to more than 1,200 dead by Wednesday, the vast majority of them civilians.

Among the dead were children, babies and entire families. At an outdoor music festival, surrounded by the attackers, 260 people were systematically mowed down. In addition, the terrorists abducted around 150 people of all ages, including children and elderly women, dragging them back to Gaza as captives.

Israel retaliated with artillery and airstrikes, and officials from the Hamas-controlled health ministry estimated more than 900 Palestinian dead by the fifth day of ferocious fighting. Israel says it is targeting terrorist infrastructure and all areas where Hamas operates or hides out, while issuing evacuation warnings to civilians in regions it plans to attack.

The EU and its member states have responded with expressions of solidarity with Israel and furious disgust at Hamas’s assault. ‘It is terrorism. And it is an act of war,’ von der Leyen said.

‘Hamas terrorists killed women and children in their homes. They hunted hundreds of young men and women who were celebrating life and music,’ she told the European Commission.

‘They took hostage hundreds of innocents, whose fate is still unknown,’ she added. ‘These innocents were killed for one single reason: for being Jewish and living in the State of Israel. It is an ancient evil, which reminds us of the darkest past and shocks all of us to the core.’

But the EU has also expressed concern that Israel keep its response within the limits of international law.

International Law and EU Aid to Palestine

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell accused the Israeli government on Tuesday of breaking international law by imposing a total blockade of Gaza in response to the attack by Hamas on Israel.

After an emergency meeting to discuss the repercussions of the attack, Borrell also said an ‘overwhelming majority’ of EU foreign ministers supported continuing aid payments for the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank.

Borrell made his statement the day after European Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, a Hungarian diplomat, said all EU development aid for Palestinians was suspended – only for the Commission to disown his announcement after a backlash from EU governments.

Borrell had invited the Israeli and Palestinian foreign ministers to take part by video conference in the meeting in Muscat, Oman.

But Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen did not want to participate in a meeting that would also be addressed by Palestinian Authority minister Riyad al-Maliki so neither ended up taking part, officials said.

Borrell repeated the EU’s condemnation of attacks by Hamas that killed more than 1,000 Israelis, most of them civilians.

But he said Israel’s response had to be in line with international humanitarian law and a decision to impose a total blockade on Gaza contravened this standard.

‘Israel has the right to defend (itself) but it has to be done accordingly with international law, humanitarian law, and some decisions are contrary to international law,’ Borrell told reporters after the meeting.

Borrell mentioned that the United Nations had stated that ‘cutting water, cutting electricity, cutting food to a mass of civilian people is against international law’.

Israel criticised the UN statement, accusing the world body’s human rights chief of failing to condemn Hamas as terrorists.

Borrell stressed the EU does not cooperate with Hamas, which runs Gaza and which the EU classes as a terrorist organisation. But he said it was vital that the bloc continued to provide aid to help Palestinian civilians via the Palestinian Authority.

‘A collective punishment against all Palestinians will be unfair and unproductive,’ he said.

The 27-nation EU says it is the biggest provider of external assistance to Palestinians. Last year, it gave some 283 million euros to support the Palestinian Authority, and the main UN agency for Palestinian refugees and other projects, according to the European Commission.

Addressing the start of a meeting of EU commissioners on Wednesday, Ursula von der Leyen also supported a full review of the EU’s multi-million-euro financial support for Palestinian projects.

‘Our humanitarian support to the Palestinian people is not in question. Yet it is important that we carefully review our financial assistance for Palestine,’ she said.

‘EU funding has never and will never go to Hamas or any terrorist entity. So we will now again review the entire portfolio in light of an evolving situation on the ground,’ she added.

But the EU has longstanding deep divisions over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which spilled out into the open in the reaction to the shortlived announcement of aid suspension by Varhelyi, whose national government is a close ally of Israel.

Acting Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said Palestinian territories are likely to need more aid after the Hamas assault and Israel’s subsequent bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Following the attack on Israel by Hamas on Saturday 7 October, Spain’s acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez wrote on X (formerly Twitter): ‘We follow with dismay the terrorist attack against Israel and we stand in solidarity with the victims and their families. We strongly condemn terrorism and demand the immediate cessation of indiscriminate violence against civilian population. Spain maintains its commitment to regional stability.’

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