EU edges towards call for pause in Israel-Hamas war but doubts persist

By Andrew Gray

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The European Union edged on Monday towards endorsing a “humanitarian pause” in the war between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas even as some member governments signalled reservations about the idea.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said he backed a call by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a break in the conflict to allow much more humanitarian aid to reach Palestinian civilians in the besieged Gaza Strip.

EU officials also drafted a statement in support of the proposal for an EU summit later this week, although they cautioned the text could still change in the coming days.

The moves reflected increasing alarm about the fate of Palestinian civilians after two weeks of Israel bombarding and blockading Gaza in response to the Oct. 7 Hamas assault that killed 1,400 people and took more than 200 hostage.

More than 5,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes, according to the enclave’s health ministry, and about 1.4 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million population are now internally displaced, according to the United Nations.

Two aid convoys – one of 20 trucks, the other of 14 – entered Gaza over the weekend from Egypt at the Rafah crossing, according to officials. But aid workers said this was a fraction of the aid that would go into Gaza even in normal times.

“Now the most important thing is for humanitarian support to go into Gaza,” Borrell told reporters on arrival at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

EU members including France, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, Slovenia and Luxembourg have also backed the idea.

“There’s a vital need to get water, to get food, to get medical supplies into Gaza,” said Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin. “The degree of human suffering is immense. We have to distinguish between the civilians of Gaza and Hamas.”

But some other ministers openly expressed reservations about the proposal or avoided a direct answer when asked about it.

The divergence in views broadly reflected longstanding differences within the EU over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with those seen as more sympathetic to Palestinians pushing for a pause while staunch allies of Israel were more reluctant.

Asked why Germany had not backed calls for a humanitarian ceasefire, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said recent days had shown the importance of getting aid into Gaza but had also made clear that Hamas was continuing to attack Israel.

“We’ve all seen that the terrorism continues non-stop, that massive rocket attacks against Israel are taking place,” she said. “We can’t end the humanitarian catastrophe when the terrorism from Gaza continues.”

Some questioned whether a pause would impede Israel’s right to defend itself as it seeks to destroy Hamas positions in Gaza.

“Of course everyone would wish that the violence comes to an end. But Israel has the right to self-defence,” said Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky questioned “how such a ceasefire should be established with a partner inside Gaza, where the Hamas terrorist organisation now is controlling the situation”.

(Reporting by Andrew Gray, Bart Meijer and Jan Strupczewski, Editing by Charlotte Van Campenhout and Alison Williams)