'Urgent de-escalation' of conflict sought by EU foreign ministers
EU foreign ministers called on Israel and Hamas to cease their hostilities immediately, pleading for an “urgent de-escalation” of the conflict over Gaza amid concern about any Israeli ground invasion.
While the ministers also declared the Syrian opposition coalition to be legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, they stopped well short of recognising it as the only legitimate representative.
As diplomatic efforts intensified yesterday to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the ministers said they backed efforts by Egypt, the United Nations, the Arab League and others to bring both sides together.
“What we want to see is an end to the violence, an end to the rocket attacks, an end to the attacks on innocent civilians. Far too many people have died in this conflict already,” Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore told reporters. “There was very great concern expressed about the deteriorating situation in Gaza, that rockets are being fired from Gaza deep into Israel and that there are attacks on civilians in Gaza from the Israeli side.”
Asked if he agreed with assertions by British foreign secretary William Hague that Hamas was to blame for starting the offensive, Mr Gilmore said the Government agreed with the condemnation of rocket attacks made deep into Israel.
The ministers said there can be no justification for the targeting of innocent civilians.
While saying Israel had the right to protect its people from rocket attacks, they said it “must act proportionately” in doing so and “ensure the protection of civilians at all times”. Citing instability in the Middle East at large, they said a ceasefire was in everyone’s best interest.
“You’ve heard me say many times before that a long-term solution to Gaza and moving towards the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a necessity and it’s very important to help stabilise the entire region,” said Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief.
The ministers welcomed the formation of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, saying this represented a big step towards unity necessary for the anti-regime opposition. Ms Ashton brushed aside questions as to why ministers had not recognised the group as the only legitimate representative.
It is understood some member states did not want to do that, leading to the casting of a communique which avoided saying the coalition was either “a” legitimate representative or “the” legitimate representative.
“I wouldn’t underestimate the strength of that wording, the importance of working with the coalition,” Ms Ashton said. “Inclusivity is so important, that everyone in Syria can feel the future belongs to them.”