Israel to summon Spanish, Belgian envoys after appearance at Rafah crossing

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Belgian counterpart Alexander de Croo hold press conference at Egyptian side of crossing ahead of release of abductees from Gaza

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (L) and Belgium Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (R) hold a joint press conference on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip, in the north eastern Sinai province, on November 24, 2023. (AFP)
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (L) and Belgium Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (R) hold a joint press conference on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip, in the north eastern Sinai province, on November 24, 2023. (AFP)

RAFAH, Egypt — The Israeli government said Friday it would summon the Belgian and Spanish ambassadors following remarks by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his Belgian counterpart Alexander de Croo on the war between Israel and Hamas.

The announcement came after the two leaders appeared at Egypt’s Rafah crossing on Friday where the first 13 of the Israeli hostages were set to arrive ahead of their release to Israel after 49 days as Hamas hostages, and held a press conference that raised eyebrows in Israel, in which they criticized the Jewish state for the suffering of Palestinian civilians.

Sánchez also called for European Union recognition of a Palestinian state, saying Spain might do so on its own.

Sánchez said the time had come for the international community and the European Union to once and for all recognize a Palestinian state. He said it would be better if the EU did it together, “but if this is not the case … Spain will take their own decisions.”

Sánchez was speaking at the end of a two-day visit to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Egypt with de Croo. Spain currently holds the EU’s rotational presidency and Belgium takes over in January.

Sánchez reiterated comments made Thursday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the death of civilians.

“I also reiterate Israel’s right to defend itself but it must do so within the parameters and limits imposed by international humanitarian law and this is not the case,” Sánchez said. “The indiscriminate killing of civilians, including thousands of boys and girls, are completely unacceptable.”

Israel has vowed to dismantle Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza, after some 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists rampaged through southern Israeli communities on October 7, slaughtering 1,200 people in their homes and at an outdoor music festival, among unimaginable acts of brutality. Terrorists also took about 240 hostages of all ages.

On Friday, 13 Israelis — including four children — as well as 10 Thai nationals and a Filipino were released after 49 days held hostage in the Gaza Strip, following their abduction on October 7. The 13 Israeli hostages were the first group of abductees freed as part of a four-day temporary truce deal that also saw a lull in fighting and the release of 39 Palestinian prisoners, women and underaged males.

Another 13 hostages are set to be released Saturday, on the second day of the truce deal. Some 50 hostages — children, their mothers and other women — are set to be freed overall over the four days.

The four-day truce can potentially be extended for one extra day for each group of 10 more hostages freed by Hamas, according to Israel.

In his address, Belgium’s De Croo did not comment on recognition of a Palestinian state, but said, “first things first, let’s stop the violence. Let’s liberate the hostages. Let’s get the aid inside … the first priority is help people who are suffering.”

De Croo stressed the need and hope for a permanent ceasefire, adding that this “needs to be built together. And it can only be built together if both parties understand that the solution to this conflict is never going to be violence. A solution to this conflict is that people sit around the table.”

“A military operation needs to respect international humanitarian law. The killing of civilians needs to stop now. Way too many people have died. The destruction of Gaza is unacceptable,” he said.

The Hamas-run Health Ministry claims that more than 14,000 Gazans have been killed since the start of the war, in figures that cannot be independently verified and do not distinguish between civilians and Hamas operatives or between those killed by Israeli airstrikes and those killed by failed Palestinian rocket launches.

“We cannot accept that a society is being destroyed the way it is being destroyed,” DeCroo added.

Israel later lashed out at the two prime ministers “for not placing full responsibility for the crimes against humanity committed by Hamas, who massacred our citizens and used the Palestinians as human shields.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen instructed the countries’ ambassadors to be summoned for a sharp reprimand. “We condemn the false claims of the prime ministers of Spain and Belgium who give support to terrorism,” Cohen said.

“Israel is acting according to international law and fighting a murderous terrorist organization worse than (the Islamic State group) that commits war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he said.

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares responded to the summon of Spain’s ambassador late Friday. “The Israeli government’s accusations against the President of the Government and the Belgian Prime Minister are totally false and unacceptable,” he said in a statement. “We categorically reject them.”

Albares said the Spanish prime minister has publicly and repeatedly defended Israel’s right to self-defense and that his tour in the region this week was seeking “a path to peace.”

Most Popular
read more: