EU leaders agree call to ‘pause’ Gaza conflict to allow humanitarian aid

Statement avoids ‘ceasefire’ as several states argued this would weaken EU’s support for Israel’s right to self-defence

EU leaders on Thursday night agreed on a call for “pauses” in the conflict in Gaza to allow aid into the beleaguered enclave.

After hours of wrangling over the text, European Union leaders signed up to a statement that calls 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”.

It did not use the term “ceasefire” as some EU states contended that this weakened the EU’s support for Israel’s right to defend itself.

The European Council — the EU’s most influential decision-making body, consisting of the heads of all 27 governments — also affirmed that it “reiterates the importance of ensuring the protection of all civilians at all times in line with international humanitarian law”.


The council went on to say that it “deplores all loss of civilian life”, but the leaders deleted a line in earlier drafts which said it “condemns in the strongest possible terms all violence and hostilities against all civilians”.

In Gaza, meanwhile, the Israeli bombardment continued amid claims by Hamas that approximately 50 of the 224 hostages held there have been killed as a result of Israeli air strikes. The Hamas-run health ministry has reported that at least 7,000 people have been killed in the bombardment carried out after Hamas militants attacked Israel and killed 1,400 people on October 7th.

The agreement of the European Council statement marked a qualified success for EU diplomats, who had struggled for days to come up with a wording acceptable to all the member states. But the omission of the term “ceasefire” demonstrated the continuing divisions between members states, and the reluctance among many to be anyway critical of Israel.

Divisions between EU leaders were laid bare over several hours of talks on the draft statement, after days of wrangling between diplomats over a text that could be accepted by all 27 member states. One official said that the challenge for the EU was not just to agree a common position, but to agree a coherent one.

Officials said that Austria was the last holdout among the 27 on the agreed conclusions, after Germany and the Czech Republic — who had objected to aspects of the proposed statement — agreed earlier to the text.

Another late addition to the text — said to be at Spain’s insistence — included a call for the holding of “an international peace conference soon”.

The ongoing divisions had frustrated the ambitions of some EU leaders for the bloc to speak with one voice on the situation in Israel-Palestine, evident since the latest phase of the conflict erupted almost three weeks ago.

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Earlier, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that he would argue for a “humanitarian ceasefire”, though he went on to warn that Hamas might not observe any ceasefire. Though Ireland is seen as one of the most pro-Palestinian EU members, Mr Varadkar restated Ireland’s position that Israel’s right to defend itself included the right to “pursue the terrorists”, but he added that Israel’s actions must be in line with international law.

Mr Varadkar told reporters: “I don’t really mind what language is used. I think it’s important that the fighting should stop and that humanitarian aid should get into Gaza and that EU citizens and other foreign passport holders should be allowed to leave.”

His words were echoed by the Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel, who told reporters: “I don’t give a damn how we call it. What matters is that every day, there’s people that are dying, children who are dying, women who are dying that have nothing to do with the war.”

The Israeli Defence Forces released footage of its tanks making what it called a “limited ground raid” into Gaza on Wednesday night, while prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu indicated that a ground invasion was likely, but declined to give specifics.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times