Israel-Hamas conflict: EU vows to be ‘consistent’ in defending international law

Leaders hold extraordinary meeting to discuss crisis amid reports of 500 dead in strike on hospital in Gaza

Europe must be consistent in demanding respect for international law wherever conflicts occur in the world, European Council president Charles Michel said on Tuesday night after national leaders met for extraordinary talks on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The meeting was called after fears that a discordant response to the conflict was harming the standing of the European Union as an international voice for the rule of law, and undermining its relations with the developing world and Arab states.

Mr Michel, whose role is to chair the meetings of the 27 national leaders and lead its priorities, said that the EU’s foreign affairs policy had to be based on “unity” and “consistency”.

“We all must stand up and defend peace, international law, and humanitarian law everywhere, everywhere in the world at all times,” Mr Michel said. “That is the rule of law.”


It follows a chaotic week for the bloc’s international relations after European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was criticised for expressing unqualified support for Israel’s response to the Hamas attack, contrary to the jointly-agreed position of the EU member states.

Midway through the talks on Tuesday evening, the EU leaders learned of reports from Palestinian authorities that an Israeli air strike had hit a Gaza city hospital, killing hundreds of people.

“We got this information when we were together. It seems to be confirmed,” Mr Michel told reporters after the talks concluded. “An attack against civilian infrastructure is not in line with international law.”

The EU supported Israel’s right to defend itself within the bounds of international law, and was committed to working for a peaceful resolution of the conflict based on the foundation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, he said.

He also vowed to continue the EU’s support to the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank and is dominated by more moderate political forces while itsrival Hamas rules the Gaza Strip.

The EU leaders discussed continuing diplomatic efforts to engage with regional players including Jordan and Egypt to try to prevent the conflict from widening into a regional war, following tensions on Israel’s borders.

They also co-ordinated on efforts to get humanitarian aid into Gaza and evacuate foreign citizens from the narrow, embattled strip, where an estimated 1,000 EU citizens including 40 Irish people are thought to be trapped.

The gathering began with a minute of silence in honour of the innocent victims of the conflict in Israel and Palestine, as well as civilians killed in recent days in attacks in France and Belgium.

“This conflict has a lot of resonance everywhere across the world, and it is a conflict which is generating a lot of fragmentation, of divisions, of polarisations among our people,” Mr Michel said.

EU leaders discussed how to “defuse the tensions” that were affecting their own societies as a side-effect of the conflict and to co-operate to prevent security risks, he said.

“It’s very important to make sure that we are fighting against hate speech, against anti-Semitism, and all other forms of hatred, Islamophobia,” Mr Michel said.

Dr von der Leyen briefly took questions from reporters after the talks, and said that the EU was working to try to get humanitarian supplies into Gaza and that it would triple its donations this year.

“We’re also explaining to the Israeli authorities that providing water to Gaza is essential. This is a basic human right,” she said.

She briefly addressed her trip to Tel Aviv, saying that she had told Israeli authorities that “it is Hamas who are the terrorists, not the Palestinian people, so we have to care for the Palestinian people and their humanitarian needs.”

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times