June 16, 2024 5:30 am

European diplomacy steps up calls for Gaza cease-fire

 Some of Israel’s closest European allies pressed for a cease-fire in the war with Hamas on Sunday, underscoring growing international unease with the devastating impact of the conflict on Gaza’s civilian population.

The concerted push by top European diplomats comes before a visit to Israel on Monday by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who is also expected to put pressure on Israeli leaders to end the war’s most intense phase and transition to a more targeted strategy against Hamas.

Western allies of Israel have increasingly expressed concern with civilian casualties and the mass displacement of 1.9 million Palestinians — nearly 85% of Gaza’s population — though the U.S. has continued to provide vital military and diplomatic support to its close ally.

In a joint article in British newspaper The Sunday Times, U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron and German Foreign Affairs Minister Annalena Baerbock called for a cease-fire and said “too many civilians have been killed. The Israeli government should do more to discriminate sufficiently between terrorists and civilians, ensuring its campaign targets Hamas leaders and operatives.”

“Israel will not win this war if its operations destroy the prospect of peaceful coexistence with Palestinians,” they said. They said the cease-fire should take place as soon as possible, but also said it must be “sustainable.”

At a news conference with her Israeli counterpart in Tel Aviv on Sunday, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna also pushed for a cease-fire.

“An immediate truce is necessary, allowing progress to be made toward a cease-fire to obtain the release of the hostages, to allow access and the delivery of more humanitarian aid to the suffering civilian population of Gaza, and in fact to move toward a humanitarian cease-fire and the beginning of a political solution,” she said.

Britain has previously called for “humanitarian pauses” in the conflict but stopped short of urging an immediate cease-fire. It abstained last week when the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly voted for a cease-fire.

France and Germany both supported the call for a cease-fire at the U.N., and French President Emmanuel Macron said at the beginning of November that Israel couldn’t fight terrorism by killing innocent people.

The increase in diplomatic pressure comes as domestic calls are also likely to grow for renewed negotiations with Hamas, following the killing of three Israeli hostages by the military on Friday.

The air and ground war has flattened vast swaths of northern Gaza and driven most of the population to the southern part of the besieged territory, where many are packed into crowded shelters and tent camps. The offensive has killed more than 18,700 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants.

Israel has continued to strike what it says are militant targets in all parts of Gaza. It has vowed to continue operations until it dismantles Hamas, which triggered the war with its Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel, in which militants killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Israel has also vowed to return the estimated 129 hostages still held in Gaza.

A group of European lawmakers also called for a cease-fire in Gaza following their trip to the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt over the weekend to see how European aid is helping Palestinians in Gaza. The four are centrist members of the European Parliament from Sweden, France, and Ireland.

Abir Al Sahlani of Sweden that said a cease-fire is urgently needed to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

“We found out that no matter how much we are going to send, it doesn’t matter, because there is no cease-fire and there is no security as long as there are bombs — Israeli bombs falling on the Palestinian people,” Al Sahlani said.

“The only way is political pressure on both sides,” she added, urging international players “to pressure, first and foremost, the (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu government and (his) Likud (party) and his right-wing government to stop the bombing of civilians and respect and follow international humanitarian law.”

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