BRUSSELS: European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell accused the Israeli government on Tuesday (Oct 10) of breaking international law by imposing a total blockade of Gaza in response to the attack by Palestinian militant group 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 – which has so far killed at least 770 Gazans, according to local officials – 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,” he 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 (US$299.78 million) to support the Palestinian Authority, and the main UN agency for Palestinian refugees and other projects, according to the European Commission.
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.
A European Commission spokesperson said on Tuesday Varhelyi had not consulted his fellow commissioners, including Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Several EU governments openly criticised the announcement and more did so behind the scenes, diplomats said. The Commission then said it would review aid to ensure no funds are going to terrorists but payments would continue meantime.
Acting Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said Palestinian territories are likely to need more aid after the Hamas assault and Israel’s subsequent bombardment of the Gaza Strip.
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