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EU leaders meet in Brussels to discuss Israel-Hamas war and issue call for 'humanitarian pause'

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have recently travelled to Israel.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have recently travelled to Israel. Copyright European Union 2023.
Copyright European Union 2023.
By Jorge LiboreiroMaria Psara & Vincenzo Genovese
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The leaders of the European Union's member states are set to meet later today in Brussels to discuss the Israel-Hamas war and stress that support for Ukraine has not been forgotten.

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The 27 countries will discuss the possibility of issuing a joint call for a "humanitarian pause" to allow more emergency aid into the Gaza Strip, where the situation is turning increasingly dire after more than two weeks of repeated Israeli strikes in retaliation for the deadly attacks launched by Hamas in early October.

Over 50 trucks carrying assistance have been allowed entry to Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt since Saturday, a pace that the EU, the US and the UN consider insufficient. The lack of fuel for generators that can power hospitals, bakeries and other essential services including desalination plants for water has become the focus of particular concern.

"The European Council expresses its gravest concern for the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza and calls for continued, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access and aid to reach those in need through all necessary measures including a humanitarian pause," read the latest version of the draft summit's conclusions, seen by Euronews.

"The European Council condemns in the strongest terms all violence and hostilities against civilians."

According to the Hamas-run Gazan Health Ministry, about 6,500 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war, including at least 2,000 children. Israeli authorities say over 1,400 of its citizens were killed by Hamas, with over 200 still held hostage in Gaza.

As the death toll mounts, EU leaders hope the "humanitarian pause" could help accelerate the flow of emergency aid, such as food, water, medical care and fuel, into the densely-populated, economically-deprived enclave.

Ahead of Thursday's meeting, diplomats discussed alternative wordings, like a "humanitarian window" and a "humanitarian ceasefire." But the term "ceasefire" was considered too drastic by some countries, like Germany and Austria.

"We need to find a middle way between those leaning towards an outright humanitarian ceasefire, which is a general stop of the fighting, and those who think Israel is still entitled to defend itself against attacks from Hamas and that is too soon to speak about a ceasefire," said a senior EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"So a pause can be envisaged as a series of interruptions that can allow humanitarian aid inside Gaza," the diplomat added. "It's a bit semantic."

Last-minute talks centred on whether to call for a "pause" or "pauses," as the singular could be read as a one-off thing while the plural is interpreted as open-ended.

"For us, the difference doesn't really matter because the intention is quite clear" in both cases, said a senior diplomat from a different member state.

However, a third diplomat said their country would advocate for the plural version because multiple deliveries of humanitarian aid to Gaza would be "needed."

Regardless of the final form the text adopts, the joint call from Brussels has little to no chance of succeeding on the ground, as neither Israel nor Hamas are likely to heed the words. Still, the appeal could help the bloc buttress its joint position on the raging war following criticism earlier this month about its mixed and uncoordinated messages.

The debate on Thursday will be fed by the insights of the leaders that have recently travelled to the region, including French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer and Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, as well as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, whose trip to Israel on 13 October became the subject of intense media scrutiny.

"In its legitimate efforts to fight Hamas terrorists, Israel must seek to protect civilian lives and respect international humanitarian law," von der Leyen said on Monday after holding a phone call with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian National Authority, the political entity that controls parts of the West Bank.

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According to the draft conclusions, heads of state and government will urge Hamas to "immediately release all hostages without any preconditions" and warn regional actors against fuelling an "escalation" of violence, a thinly-veiled reference to the possible involvement of Hezbollah and Iran in the war.

Leaders will also express their readiness to revive the peace process towards a two-state solution, which is seen as a far-off goal by both Israelis and Palestinians.

During Thursday's talks, the European Council will try to dispel any doubts that support for Ukraine in the face of Russia's aggression has faded to the background amid the renewed attention to the Middle East.

The draft conclusions feature a total of 14 paragraphs devoted to Ukraine on various aspects such as security commitments, critical infrastructure, the prosecution of war crimes and the use of immobilised Russian assets to pay for the reconstruction, a thorny question that remains stuck in the theoretical realm.

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"It's an important political message that we haven't lost sight" of Ukraine, said the first diplomat quoted in this article. "We want to reassure our Ukrainian partners  and other partners around the world that we keep Ukraine very high on the agenda."

Besides the two wars, EU leaders will debate migration management, the state of the economy, competitiveness and the proposed review of the bloc's common budget.

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