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EU chief Ursula von der Leyen in the European Parliament today. EU AV Service

EU triple aid to Palestine as leaders struggle to find common ground

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said there is “no excuse for hitting a hospital full of civilians”.

THE EUROPEAN UNION has immediately trebled its humanitarian aid to Palestine after a strike hit the al-Ahli Hospital in Northern Gaza, yesterday evening.

The ministry in Hamas-run the Palestinian territory said at least 500 people had been killed in yesterday’s blast. 

Israel and Palestine have traded blame for the strike, which triggered street protests in the Middle East against Israel.

Speaking to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said there is “no excuse for hitting a hospital full of civilians”, but did not apportion any blame for the blast.

belongings Palestinians carry belongings as they leave al-Ahli hospital. Alamy Alamy

The European Commission president announced that the EU would be tripling the amount of humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, as she acknowledged that terror from Hamas militants are too affecting the people in the region.

Humanitarian aid must urgently reach Palestinians. This is why we  have decided to immediately triple our humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza.”

Criticism of von der Leyen

The head EU commissioner said all world leaders needed to redouble their efforts to “protect civilians from the fury of this war”.

She said that the terror in the region warranted a “united response” from the EU and added that “Europe stands with Israel in this dark moment”.

Von der Leyen said terror is “resurfacing”, with the 7 October Hamas attacks in Israel and an ISIS terrorist killing two people in Brussels this week.

She added that while Israel has the right to defend themselves from Hamas and terror, the citizens in Palestine are also “suffering” from the same terror and that the EU must support them.

There is no contradiction in standing in solidarity with Israel and acting on the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people.”

Over the last number of days, von der Leyen has faced criticism from a large majority of the Irish MEPs, with many saying she has overstepped her mandate.

Fine Gael MEP Colm Markey issued strong criticism of von der Leyen and said her visit to Israel was “ill-judged”.

Fellow Fine Gael MEPs Maria Walsh and Frances Fitzgerald both said the European Commission is not responsible for setting EU foreign policy.

Fianna Fáil MEP Barry Andrews was unequivocal in his view that the projection of the Israeli flag onto the Commission Building last week was inappropriate and said Ireland’s stance on Israel-Palestine was “clearly at odds” with President von der Leyen.

commission Chief commissioner Ursula von der Leyen shared an image of the European Commission building projecting the Israeli flag last week. Ursula von der Leyen Ursula von der Leyen

On Monday, President Michael D Higgins criticised the chief commissioner for her comments on the Israel-Hamas war, saying that she was “not speaking for Ireland and she wasn’t speaking for the opinions that they hold”.

“It may not have been meant to have malevolent consequences but certainly we need a better performance in relation to European Union diplomacy and practice,” he said.

That prompted European Council President Charles Michel to host a summit of EU leaders by videoconference late yesterday, which emphasised that Israel has the right to defend itself following Hamas’s bloody assault – but only in line with its commitments under international humanitarian law.

Last week, Varadkar said to media and in the Dáil many times, that it is Ireland’s view that Israel has a right to defend itself but must be proportionate in its response to Hamas’ 7 October attacks.

Von der Leyen told parliamentarians today that while the facts need to be established, “all those responsible must be held accountable” and labelled the blast as a “senseless tragedy”.

President Higgins called for a “reliable” investigation to be carried out, to determine if the attack on the hospital was a war crime.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made a similar call in the Dáil this afternoon.

Von der Leyen said: “A hospital in Gaza, which was sheltering hundreds of wounded people, was turned into a hell of fire. The scenes from al-Ahli Hospital are horrifying and distressing.”

Michel posted on social media this morning, that there was “no conceivable reason to strike a facility with innocent civilians and medical staff” and said such an attack “is not in line with international law”.

He too called for accountability.

Against ‘rules of war’

The EU’s top foreign policy official, Josep Borrell, took a sterner view of Israel’s reaction, which has resulted in a siege of Gaza and its 2.3 million Palestinians, who are now cut off from water, food, electricity and humanitarian aid.

“Cutting water supplies and food off from civilian populations isn’t in line with the rules of law,” Borrell told the European Parliament.

“We cannot make the people of Gaza responsible for the terrible actions of Hamas.”

President Higgins is attending the World Food Forum this week and highlighted today that the people in Southern Gaza were “already living in very stressed conditions” due to a lack of food and water rations.

He added that he is outraged by any attack on civilians.

“I express, and have expressed again and again, utter revulsion at the attack of people attending, for example, a music event,” Higgins said.

“But we are not asked to choose and say that we must exclusively concentrate on that particular horror and, at the same time, set aside our concerns at what are the pre-announced, delivered breaches of international law that are involved when you remove water, when you remove medical aid, when you remove food itself from civilian populations.”

bodies Bodies of Palestinians killed by an explosion at the Ahli Arab hospital. Alamy Alamy

He labelled the withholding of rations as a breach of international and humanitarian law and said that any facts that are determined by an investigation must be made available to the public.

The speeches to the parliament, and last night’s videoconference EU summit, highlighted divergences within the EU over the Israel-Hamas conflict.

While there has been widespread condemnation of the slaughter by Hamas of Israelis, disagreements over calls to rein in retaliatory strikes on Gaza continue to boil.

Includes reporting from © AFP 2023