By Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold
BRUSSELS/BERLIN (Reuters) -European Union foreign ministers are set on Tuesday to call for a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, offer more humanitarian aid and try to relaunch peace talks, Malta’s foreign minister said.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell began an emergency call with member states’ foreign ministers after criticism of the West’s response to violence that flared last week, including from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
“I think I’m not being too optimistic (to say) that at a minimum, what will probably come out (of the EU meeting) is the call for a ceasefire, an offer of humanitarian aid, and then seeing how to restart the political process,” Bartolo told Reuters via video link after the ministers’ call began.
After a ceasefire, the EU would “work with the United States, work with Russia to try and deal with the situation,” he said.
The EU is a member of the Middle East quartet of mediators, along with Russia, the United Nations and the United States.
Washington has long played a dominant role in Middle East peacemaking and U.S. President Joe Biden supported a ceasefire during a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday..
Germany has called for a ceasefire and pledged 40 million euros ($48.86 million) in humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza.
“An end to the violence is the first priority,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a video statement streamed on social media.
The EU is Israel’s biggest trade partner and a big aid donor to the Palestinians but member states are divided over policy and the bloc has been reluctant to use such leverage or discuss possible economic sanctions on Israel’s government.
At least eight smaller EU states, led by Luxembourg and including Belgium, Ireland, Malta and Finland, are vocal defenders of the Palestinians.
Others, including Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria, Greece, Cyprus and Poland, are more ready to defend Israel’s interests. Austria flew an Israeli flag over the federal chancellery in Vienna on Friday.
Germany, which still carries the burden of guilt over the Nazi crimes of World War Two, is unwilling to discuss coercive measures against Israel.
“The European Union should have, right now, a leading role (in diffusing the crisis). It doesn’t have that role, either because of differences in approach by member states or because there is no strategic approach from Brussels,” Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides told Cyprus’s Alpha TV.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels and Sabine Siebold in Berlin, additional reporting by John Chalmers in Brussels and Michele Kambas in Nicosia, Editing by Timothy Heritage)