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Total siege of Gaza not in accordance with international law, says Charles Michel

A total siege of Gaza is “not in accordance with international law”, European Council President Charles Michel said on Tuesday after EU heads of state met online to refine their position on the war between Israel and Hamas.


The extraordinary meeting was necessary to give EU leaders the opportunity to build “unity and coherence” in the face of the crisis, Michel said, and to reiterate their support for Israel’s right to defend its sovereign territory. while respecting the boundaries of international humanitarian law.

But asked whether European leaders viewed some of Israel’s actions since launching its offensive as a violation of international law, Michel replied: “A total siege, when you cut off basic infrastructure, when you cut off access to water, when you cut off electricity, when you don’t let food in: this is not in accordance with international law. »

Her Commission counterpart, Ursula von der Leyen, whose reluctance to call on Israel to spare civilians during its attacks on the Gaza Strip has sparked unease in many European capitals, also told reporters that she had explained to the Israeli authorities that “providing water to Gaza is essential. »

“It’s a fundamental human right,” she added.

A minute of silence for the victims in Israel, Palestine, but also in France and Belgium following the recent terrorist attacks, was observed by the leaders at the start of the meeting, which began shortly after a hospital in the city of Gaza was hit by an airstrike. killing at least 300 people according to local authorities. Hamas and the Israeli government mutually blame each other for this strike.

EU leaders also once again stressed the need to address short-term humanitarian needs and prevent an escalation of the conflict after the bloc’s uncoordinated response drew criticism.

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, called last Tuesday for restraint in the Israeli counter-offensive. But von der Leyen first raised the need to respect international humanitarian law last Saturday, days after Israeli forces cut off water, food and electricity supplies to the besieged Gaza Strip.

A diplomatic row also erupted after a communications debacle over EU aid to Palestine, after Hungarian Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi announced on social media platform immediately suspended”, forcing the Commission to reverse course.

He then announced a tripling of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians over the weekend and the creation of a humanitarian airlift to deliver supplies to Egypt. Von der Leyen said the Commission was “in contact with the Egyptian authorities to allow our (EU) aid to enter Gaza.”

Preventing regional escalation

The leaders also discussed how they would engage politically and diplomatically with Israel and with Arab countries in the region to prevent the conflict from becoming further divided.

“We know that an escalation of the conflict at the regional level would represent a danger for the region as a whole as well as for Europe and for the whole world – especially at a time when Russia has launched a war against Ukraine,” said Michael.

“I recently spoke to several Arab leaders,” von der Leyen said. “All have been very clear about the importance of our European funding and that these events have the potential to drag the entire region into conflict, which would call into question the positive impact of all of our funding neighborhood.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz joined the meeting from Israel, where he will meet government officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, before traveling to Egypt.

Egypt is seen as a key player because it shares a border with the southern Gaza Strip and is under immense pressure from the international community to open humanitarian corridors to ensure essential aid reaches civilians .

But Egyptian authorities are reluctant to open their borders, fearing a massive influx of refugees. According to Michel, Egypt also wants to prevent a mass exodus of Palestinians into its territory because it would jeopardize the path to a two-state solution, suggesting there are fears that Israel could annex Gaza if the population flees.

In remarks suggesting the EU is considering a formal cooperation agreement with Egypt, von der Leyen said the bloc “must work and support Egypt in the current crisis and establish a comprehensive package.”

Warning that migratory waves could also reach Europe via Egypt, Michel suggested that Europe could engage with Egypt in a “broad partnership, including on migration” to facilitate possible access to Gaza.

Protecting security in Europe

A day after Brussels was rocked by a terrorist attack that claimed the lives of two Swedish nationals, EU leaders also spoke of the possible threat to “internal security” in Europe.


The Brussels attack has raised fears of a contagion of violence across the continent, including anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks.

“Terror is resurfacing and member states are very vigilant on this subject,” von der Leyen said.

“This conflict has a lot of resonance and generates a lot of divisions and polarization within our (…) societies,” Michel said.

“This is why we must also cooperate at the European level to try to ease tensions, to try to prevent security risks, and also to strengthen cooperation between our security services,” Michel added.


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