Hungary is the only EU country not to support an EU declaration calling for a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians, according to the bloc's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.
EU foreign ministers met for a special meeting Tuesday to address the surge in violence in Israel and Palestinian Territories, with 26 out of 27 member nations agreeing on a statement.
"The priority is the immediate cessation of all violence and implementation of a ceasefire," said Borrell. "The upsurge of violence has led to a high number of civilian casualties, deaths and injuries, among them a high number of children and women, and that this is unacceptable.”
However, Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told AFP news agency; "I have a general problem with the European statements on Israel (...) They are not of much help, especially in the current circumstances, when the tensions are so high."
Death toll rising as Israel hits Gaza, Hamas hits Israel
At least 212 Palestinians have been killed in heavy airstrikes so far, including 61 children, and over 1,400 people wounded, Gaza’s Health Ministry said. Ten people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy, have been killed in rocket attacks launched towards civilian areas in Israel.
Israel carried out a wave of airstrikes on what it said were militant targets in Gaza, levelling a six-story building in downtown Gaza City, and Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel early on Tuesday, the latest in the fourth war between the two sides.
EU statement calls for security, to restore political horizon
Borrell also said in the statement that: “We support the right to defence for Israel and right to security - also for the Palestinians - and we consider that security for Israel and Palestine requires a true political solution, because only a true political solution could bring peace, and to do that we need to restore a political horizon”.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned that the conflict could spread throughout the region if no cease-fire is agreed. He also said he hoped that Israel wouldn't launch a ground operation in Gaza.
“Each day brings greater risks: the risk of the conflict spreading to the West Bank, the risk of violence inside Israel itself, the risk that the conflict becomes a regional one,” Le Drian told reporters in Paris during a break in the meeting.
“The situation on the ground is extremely worrying. There is a heavy casualty toll. Israeli and Palestinian families are in mourning. The images are terrible and cannot leave anyone indifferent. Waiting is not an option,” Le Drian said.
He also said that “one of the reasons for the dramatic situation today is precisely because there is no perspective for a political process. What we need to do is find the path to a political process, but before anything else, to ensure that there is an end to the hostilities.”
Germany wants wider mediation efforts
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also said that “the weapons must finally fall silent.”
Maas emphasised the role of the diplomatic quartet, in which the EU is represented by its new Middle East peace envoy Sven Koopmans, and said “we are in favour of further expanding his mediation efforts.”
The quartet’s other three members are the United Nations, the US and Russia.
“We must use our relationships with both sides to encourage confidence-building steps that could lead to calming the situation both inside Israel and in the West Bank,” Maas added. “Only that way will it be possible to talk again about a lasting solution to the Middle East conflict.”
EU holds little sway, divided on approach
Both ministers said that the bloc has a role to play in helping end the conflict, but while the EU is the biggest aid donor to the Palestinians it holds little sway over the militant group Hamas or Israel, despite having some trade arrangements that are favourable to the Israelis.
EU nations are also divided in their approach to the conflict, even though the bloc as a whole remains committed to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians based on the 1967 lines, with the possibility of mutually agreed land-swaps.
Recently, officials have voiced growing concern that Israeli settlement expansion is undermining that possibility.