Israel’s decision to cut off food, water and electricity to the blockaded Gaza Strip is against international law, the European Union’s chief diplomat has said, after foreign ministers met to discuss a response to the spiralling conflict with militant group Hamas.
“Israel has the right to defend itself, but it has to be done accordingly with international law,” Josep Borrell told media. “Some of the actions... cutting water, cutting electricity, cutting food to a mass of civilian people, are not in accordance with international law.”
His comments came a day after Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, announced a “complete siege” of the narrow strip of land that is home to two million people, saying that “no electricity, no food, no water, no gas” would be allowed to reach Gaza.
Mr Borrell described the humanitarian situation as “dire”, as 150,000 Palestinians are now internally displaced, while intense Israeli air strikes caused a rising death toll.
He said the “overwhelming majority” of EU foreign ministers were against the idea of suspending aid payments to Palestinian authorities, contrary to a rogue social media message by Hungary’s European commissioner that claimed all funds would immediately be cut. A spokesman for the European Commission earlier said that Oliver Varhelyi had made the announcement without prior agreement and that his posts on the X platform were “not an official announcement by the commission”.
The claim sent shock waves internationally as the EU is the biggest single donor to the Palestinian Authority – the more moderate rival to Hamas, which is in charge in the West Bank – helping it to provide public services as well as funding multiple NGOs and United Nations programmes.
Mr Borrell said the “overwhelming majority” of EU countries opposed suspending payments to the Palestinian Authority, and that suspending the payments would be the “best present that we could give to Hamas”.
“We will have to support more, not less. More,” he told reporters. “This is 95 per cent of the positions expressed by member states here.”
A primary concern among the foreign ministers was fear that the conflict could escalate and potentially widen in the region if more groups were drawn into it, according to those informed on the discussions.
The emergency meeting was held partly in person in Muscat in Oman, where some foreign ministers were attending a summit with Gulf countries, and with others including Tánaiste Micheál Martin joining remotely from Dublin.
Mr Martin told reporters there was “horror” at the atrocities committed by Hamas against Israeli civilians.
He added it was vital for ordinary Palestinians to continue to access food and basic health and education services, and cautioned against the conflict widening.
“There is deep concern about the capacity of this situation to escalate wider across the region,” he said. “Every effort must be made to make sure that that does not happen.”
A joint statement by the EU and Gulf countries called for restraint, the immediate release of hostages, the protection of civilians and “a political solution to the crisis to avoid repeating this vicious cycle of violence”.