Don’t let Israel attack Rafah, Irish foreign minister warns EU

The European Union “must do everything possible” to pressure the Israeli government into not attacking Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin said on Monday in Brussels.

Martin said the “level of inhumanity that’s now happening within Gaza” has shocked the world, referencing Israel’s ground and air offensive to defeat Hamas in response to the October 7 terrorist attack.

The Israeli government has been preparing to launch a full-scale ground offensive into Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza near the border with Egypt, despite international fears it will lead to massive civilian casualties.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Xavier Bettel said he has warned Israel that the country is in danger of losing “the last support they have in the world” should they attack.

Martin urged Hamas to release the Israeli hostages taken in the October 7 attack and to surrender their weapons. He also called for a humanitarian ceasefire at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

The Irish foreign minister also called for sanctions on Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said tensions were growing in the West Bank and that the violent actions of Israeli settlers against Palestinians must be addressed by the Israeli government.

Expressing her support for sanctions, Baerbock said the EU “must make it clear to extremist settlers” that breaking the law will not go unanswered.

Hungary, viewed as sympathetic to the Israeli government, however blocked the new EU sanctions, as well as another joint statement appealing to Israel not to attack Rafah, multiple diplomats told dpa.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell admitted after the meeting in a press conference that “we don’t have any powers to stop” Israel from attacking Rafah and that the bloc was limited to political and diplomatic means.

Borrell said 26 EU member states agreed a statement calling for “an immediate humanitarian pause that would lead to a sustainable ceasefire.” EU diplomats confirmed Hungary did not join the statement.

A statement issued after the meeting said member states were “very concerned” about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and Israel’s plans for a possible ground assault on Rafah.

“We ask the Israeli Government not to take military action in Rafah that would worsen an already catastrophic humanitarian situation and prevent the urgently needed provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance,” the statement said.

“We reiterate the importance of ensuring the protection of all civilians at all times in line with International Humanitarian Law and to respect the 26 January order of the International Court of Justice, which is legally binding.”

The statement also called for the unconditional release of all hostages and the provision of humanitarian assistance.

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