EU ministers consider next steps in response to Israel-Hamas war

By Andrew Gray

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers on Monday consider possible next steps in response to the Middle East crisis, including a crackdown on Hamas’s finances and travel bans for Israeli settlers responsible for violence in the West Bank.

At a meeting in Brussels, ministers from the bloc’s 27 countries will also hear from Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba as they discuss future security assistance to Kyiv.

While EU officials insist helping Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion remains a top priority, the eruption of the war between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas has forced the bloc to focus anew on the Middle East.

The war has exposed long-running and deep divisions on the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict among EU countries.

But the ministers will try to find common ground as they consider a discussion paper from the EU’s diplomatic service that outlines a broad range of possible next steps.

Hamas is already listed by the European Union as a terrorist organisation, meaning any funds or assets that it has in the EU should be frozen.

The EU said on Friday it had added Mohammed Deif, Commander General of the military wing of Hamas, and his deputy, Marwan Issa, to its list terrorists under sanction.

The discussion paper – seen by Reuters – suggests the EU could go further by targeting Hamas finances and disinformation.

EU countries including France and Germany have said they are already working together to advance such proposals.

Senior EU officials such as foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, have also expressed alarm at rising violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

The paper suggests an EU response could include bans on travel to the EU for those responsible and other sanctions for violation of human rights.

France said last month the EU should consider such measures. And Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said last week that “extremist settlers in the West Bank” would be banned from entering the country.

Diplomats said it would be hard to achieve the unanimity necessary for EU-wide bans, as countries such as Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary are staunch allies of Israel.

But some suggested a decision last week by the United States, Israel’s biggest backer, to start imposing visa bans on people involved in violence in the West Bank could encourage EU countries to take similar steps.

(Reporting by Andrew Gray, Editing by Nick Zieminski)