EU leaders increasingly back a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza

By Isaac M December 14, 2023

The dire humanitarian situation in Gaza is prompting more European Union countries to support the idea of a humanitarian cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas.

Ireland’s prime minister Leo Varadkar said Thursday the EU is losing its credibility because of a lack of a strong position in the war, urging his counterparts to call for such a halt in the fighting, rather than a limited pause to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Speaking at the start of a EU summit in Brussels focusing more on Ukraine, Varadkar said the EU should condemn “terrorism perpetrated by Hamas,” but also call for justice for the Palestinian people.

The 27 EU countries have long been divided in their approach to Israel and the Palestinians. At their previous meeting in October, EU leaders called “for continued, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access and aid to reach those in need through all necessary measures, including humanitarian corridors and pauses for humanitarian needs.”

Varadkar said he hopes they will achieve “stronger wording” this time.

“I think the European Union has lost credibility because of our inability to take a stronger and more united position on Israel and Palestine,” Varadkar said. “We’ve lost credibility at the global South, which actually is most of the world, because what is perceived to be double standards. And there’s some truth in that, quite frankly.”

Before the summit, Varadkar and the prime ministers of Spain, Belgium, and Malta wrote to European Council President Charles Michel asking him to host a “serious debate” about the Israel-Hamas war and the “humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza.”

“We must call urgently for all the parties to declare a lasting humanitarian cease-fire that can lead to an end of hostilities,” the four leaders wrote.

Israel has drawn international outrage and rare criticism from the United States over the killing of civilians. More than 18,400 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-controlled territory, which does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths. Israel says 113 of its soldiers have died in the Gaza ground offensive it launched after Hamas raided southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and taking about 240 hostages.

On Tuesday, 17 out of 27 EU countries backed a resolution at the UN General Assembly calling for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza. In October, only eight EU member states voted in favor of an earlier resolution which advocated for a truce instead of a cease-fire.

Varadkar insisted that a cease-fire could lead “to a new peace process and Palestinian statehood, which is the only way to secure justice and security for everyone living in the region.”

Spanish Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, backed his Irish colleague.

“Europe has to speak out … in a clear, strong, firm and unified voice,” he said.

In his invitation letter to EU leaders, Michel did not mention a cease-fire, seeking to balance support for Israel and the defense of Palestinians’ rights.

“We must call for all hostages to be released and vigorously address the alarming humanitarian situation in Gaza,” Michel said. “We have to be strong in supporting Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself against Hamas, as well as in unequivocally defending international law and international humanitarian law. Our broader reflection will include working towards security and stability in the region and prospects for lasting peace based on the two-state solution.”

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, repeated the need for the moribund two-state solution, which would create an independent Palestinian state, is currently opposed by the Israel government.

“The Arab countries have already said that they will not participate in rebuilding Gaza unless there is a strong commitment from the international community to build a two-state solution,” Borrell said. “We have to focus on a political solution to the problem once and for all.”

Despite its limited political leverage, the 27-nation bloc is the world’s top aid supplier to the Palestinians. The EU has little influence over Israel — the United States is its staunchest ally – but remains the country’s biggest trade partner.


Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed to this story.


Find more of AP’s coverage of the war at


Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *