European Union issues first joint demand for ceasefire in Gaza

European Union (EU) leaders have issued their first joint demand for a humanitarian ceasefire and the release of all hostages in Gaza in a joint summit statement.

The statement called for “an immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire” and repeated condemnations of the attacks by Hamas against Israel on October 7.

In the aftermath of the Hamas attacks, EU leaders together only managed to call for “humanitarian corridors and pauses” in Gaza to allow aid to reach Palestinian civilians.

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European Council President Charles Michel called the statement “strong and unified” on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Ireland, Spain and Belgium pushed for the ceasefire at the summit in Brussels.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz agreed to the calls after previously opposing a ceasefire in October, citing Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Hamas.

Pressure was building for the bloc to take a stronger stance on the Israel-Hamas war.

“A ceasefire should have happened a long time ago,” said Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

Varadkar announced on Wednesday that he will step down when a successor is in place.

The EU leaders’ demand for a ceasefire in Gaza repeated a call from their foreign ministers that Hungary, viewed as sympathetic to the Israeli government, abstained on.

Varadkar said at the start of the summit that Austria and the Czech Republic were preventing the EU from making a joint call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer countered that the EU must recognise the sexual violence carried out by Hamas during the October 7 attacks on Israel.

The statement from EU leaders later said it was “appalled by the sexual violence” during the October 7 attacks, noting UN reports on the issue and declared support for independent investigations.

EU leaders also called on Israel not to go ahead with a planned ground offensive in the southern city of Rafah on the Egyptian border, where 1.5 million Palestinians have sought refuge.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres joined talks in Brussels and urged the EU to support a ceasefire. He warned that civilian casualties in Gaza like in Ukraine must be condemned “without double standards”.

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