07 May 2024, 15:58

EU voices alarm over Israel assault on Rafah

BRUSSELS, Belgium, May 7, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - EU ministers expressed mounting alarm on Tuesday over an Israeli military assault on Rafah in the Gaza Strip, with the bloc's top diplomat warning it would cause "a lot of casualties".

Belgium's development minister, Caroline Gennez, said an Israeli offensive on Rafah would cross a "red line" and said that "sanctions... have to be on the table" in response.

Speaking hours after Israel sent tanks into Rafah, she said an attack on the city "threatens millions with famine".

"It is very clear that international law is no longer respected in Gaza," she said.

Gennez also urged her European Union counterparts to unanimously agree on a decision to "stop exporting weapons to the Middle East, to Israel and the warfaring countries".

Germany's development minister, Jochen Flasbarth, said "the situation is dramatic and continues to worsen" in Gaza and called the humanitarian situation in the besieged Palestinian territory "appalling". 

But he said there would be no discussion of potential sanctions at Tuesday's talks.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who was chairing the meeting of development ministers, warned "there is no safe zone in Gaza" for Palestinian civilians to flee to, noting that there were "600,000 children" in the densely populated enclave.

He stressed that the European Union and United States had all asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to not go ahead with his threatened assault on Rafah.

- Many civilian casualties –

"In spite of these warnings and this request, an attack was started yesterday (Monday) night," Borrell said. 

"I am afraid that this is going to cause again a lot of casualties, civilian casualties".

Borrell and several of the ministers going into the meeting expressed backing for UNRWA, the United Nations' agency for Palestinian refugees.
In April, a United Nations investigation into Israel's allegations against UNRWA -- accusations that a small number of UNRWA employees had participated directly or indirectly in the October 7 Hamas attack -- had not been substantiated with evidence.

The bloc's 27 countries, represented at the EU Council, issued a general statement on humanitarian aid that coincided with the development ministers' alarm at the desperate conditions faced by Gaza's population.

The statement, without naming any countries, made "a call to help reduce the lack of protection of affected people and constraints faced by protection actors, including but not limited to breaches of International Humanitarian Law and lack of access".

It expressed "deep concern that funding for protection does not match the needs of populations affected by humanitarian crises".

The war in Gaza followed Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, in which more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, were killed, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel's relentless retaliatory offensive on the densely populated Palestinian territory has killed at least 34,789 people, most of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

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