EU backs Israel’s right to defend itself, calls for urgent ‘cessation of hostilities’

European foreign ministers meeting in Brussels condemn Hamas rocket fire on Israel, warn Jerusalem to ‘act proportionately and ensure the protection of civilians’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (photo credit: AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko/File)
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (photo credit: AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko/File)

The European Union on Monday called for an “urgent deescalation” of the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, placing its support behind Jerusalem’s effort to defend its citizens but calling on both parties to “act proportionately.”

“All attacks must end immediately as they cause unjustifiable suffering of innocent civilians,” the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council stated in a resolution adopted in Brussels. The council called for an urgent “cessation of hostilities” and expressed support for the efforts made by Egypt, the United Nations and other actors to mediate for a rapid ceasefire.

The council, a consortium of European foreign ministers which meets monthly in Brussels, has often been seen by Jerusalem as anti-Israel. In February, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton came under fire for comparing Jewish children killed by an Islamist gunman in France to children killed by Israel in Gaza.

This time, however, the EU “strongly” condemned the rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza and called upon Hamas and other groups to cease them immediately: “There can be no justification for the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians. Israel has the right to protect its population from these kinds of attacks; in doing so it must act proportionately and ensure the protection of civilians at all times.”

The EU further stressed “the need for all sides to fully respect international humanitarian law,” the statement read.

According to Palestinian reports, some 100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli air strikes since the launch of Operation Pillar of Defense on Wednesday, many of them non-combatants. Three Israelis have been killed by Hamas rocket fire

“An immediate cessation of hostilities is in everyone’s interest, particularly at a time of instability in the region,” the EU foreign ministers stated. “The current situation underlines once more the urgent need to move toward a two-state solution allowing both sides to live side-by-side in peace and security.”

Earlier on Monday, Ashton said that she had been in contact with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and with Arab officials in an effort to calm the current violence.

“I’m very concerned about the loss of life, but I’ve also been saying consistently for a long time that we need to find a long-term solution to Gaza,” she said upon arrival in Brussels. “I’ve been there three times and we have to find a way to prevent the kind of violent rocket attacks that we’ve seen, and also to bring some security and peace to the people of that region.”

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