European and Middle East envoys meet in Barcelona to discuss Israel-Hamas war

EU foreign policy chief Borrell says he regrets the absence of Israel at Union for the Mediterranean gathering, calls for permanent halt to ‘horror’ of IDF offensive in Gaza Strip

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell attends a debate on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France on November 22, 2023. (Frederick Florin/AFP)
European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell attends a debate on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France on November 22, 2023. (Frederick Florin/AFP)

Delegations from European Union member states and Middle Eastern and North African countries met Monday in Barcelona, Spain, to discuss the crisis in the Gaza Strip, where a fragile pause in fighting is set to expire.

Forty-two delegations are scheduled to gather at the event hosted by the Union for the Mediterranean, with many represented by their foreign ministers. The meeting is chaired by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.

Israel is not attending the meeting, which in past years has largely become a forum for cooperation between the EU and the Arab world. Monday’s gathering was supposed to focus on the role of the union 15 years after its founding, but it has taken on new significance since the massive October 7 Hamas attack on Israel that killed some 1,200 people and started the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.

Borrell said he “regretted” the absence of Israel. He repeated his condemnation of the Hamas attack, while calling on Israel to permanently end its assault, which he said has claimed the lives of over 5,000 children. Israel says it is striving to minimize civilian casualties but that Hamas is using Gaza’s civilians as human shields, an accusation backed by the EU and the United States.

“One horror cannot justify another horror,” Borrell said. “Peace between Israel and Palestine has become a strategic imperative for the entire Euro-Mediterranean community and beyond.”

Jordan’s Safadi, who told The Associated Press on the eve of the event that he hopes the talks will help “bridge a gap” between Arab and European countries, urged the officials attending the meeting to back a two-state solution that would recognize a Palestinian state.

“My friends, Europe has a crucial role to play,” Safadi said. “The two-state solution cannot remain a talking point.”

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, left, arrives at the Union for the Mediterranean event in Barcelona, Spain, November 27, 2023. (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud has also been invited to the event.

A small pro-Palestinian group rallied before the gathering at the art nouveau building that once housed Barcelona’s Sant Pau Hospital.

Hamas terrorists poured across the border with Gaza on October 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in southern regions and abducting around 240 hostages to Gaza, including children and infants, amid horrific atrocities.

In response, Israel launched a military campaign to destroy Hamas and remove the terror group from control in Gaza where it has been the de facto regime since 2007, as well as to secure the release of the hostages.

A pause in hostilities between Israel and Hamas continued Sunday with a third day of releases of Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, some of whom were convicted of attempted terror stabbings, rioting or rock-throwing in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. The lull was scheduled for four days and neither side has made fully clear what comes after Monday, though Israel has said it is willing to continue to the quiet if more hostages are released.

Spain is one of the EU countries that has called for Israel to cease its assault, while also condemning the Hamas attack. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the time has come for the international community and the EU to recognize a Palestinian state during a trip with his Belgian counterpart to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Egypt last week. That prompted Israel to summon the Belgian and Spanish ambassadors.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki flashes a victory sign in Barcelona, Spain, November 27, 2023. (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

The Union for the Mediterranean is an intergovernmental organization formed by the 27 members of the EU and 16 from the southern and eastern Mediterranean including Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan.

The EU is the world’s biggest provider of assistance to the Palestinians. Almost 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) has been earmarked for 2021-2024.

Meanwhile, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi is to visit New York this week to hold a United Nations Security Council meeting on the Israel-Hamas conflict, Beijing’s foreign ministry said on Monday.

“As it holds the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council this month, China will hold a high-level meeting on the Palestinian-Israeli issue on November 29,” spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

Wang Yi will preside over the meeting, he added.

China said last week it welcomed the temporary truce between Israel-Hamas, which began Friday and led to dozens of hostages being freed and the release of more than 100 Palestinian prisoners.

The deal entered its final 24 hours on Monday.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks during the 10th trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting in Busan on November 26, 2023. (Photo by Ahn Young-joon / POOL / AFP)

Beijing hoped this week’s UN talks would achieve “a ceasefire and an end to the fighting” and make “contributions to alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” Wang Wenbin said.

China has historically been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and supportive of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for an “international peace conference” to resolve the fighting.

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