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President of the European Council Charles Michel walks alongside U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who was a guest at today's summit Dario Pignatelli
EU summit

EU leaders issue strongly worded call for humanitarian pause in Gaza, warning 'risk of famine'

Ukraine and Gaza are among the prioritiy issues being discussed by EU leaders today and tomorrow in Brussels.


THE LEADERS OF the 27 EU member states have called for an immediate humanitarian pause to fighting in Gaza, leading to a “sustainable ceasefire”, at a summit of the European Council in Brussels.

The European Council said it is “appalled by the unprecedented loss of civilian lives” in Gaza and has ordered Hamas to release all Israeli hostages, Israel to facilitate humanitarian assistance into Gaza and all fighting to stop.

While the European Council said it continues to condemn the actions on Hamas on 7 October and recognises Israel’s right to defend itself, the safety of civilians who remain in Gaza is of “grave concern”.

As of today, at least 31,988 people, most of them women and children, have been killed, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza. Earlier, Varadkar said he would be pushing the European Union to call for a ceasefire.

The agreement reads: “The European Council is deeply concerned about the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza and its disproportionate effect on civilians, particularly children, as well as the imminent risk of famine caused by the insufficient entry of aid into Gaza. 

“Full, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access into and throughout the Gaza Strip via all routes is essential to provide the civilian population with life-saving assistance and basic services at scale.”

The EU leaders also calls for all parties to “respect international law” and reminds Israel of the January order from the International Court of Justice, which ruled Israel must do everything to “prevent the commission of all acts within the scope” of the Genocide Convention.

The agreement reads: “Immediate measures should be taken to  prevent any further population displacement and provide safe shelter to all the population to ensure civilians are protected at all times.”

Chair of the 27 EU leaders, and President of the European Council, Charles Michel welcomed the agreement this evening, labelling the statement “strong and united”.

Leo Varadkar, who is meeting with EU leaders for the last time as Taoiseach today, welcomed the agreement which, he said, is “very much in line” with Ireland’s position.

“It’s good that we finally have unanimous agreement at EU level on Gaza. Collectively, we condemned Hamas’s terrorist actions, called for a ceasefire, rapid access of humanitarian aid to relieve the suffering of the civilian population in Gaza, the release of hostages, an end to the expansion of illegal settlements, and a two-State solution.”

Today’s meetings are expected to run right through the evening and possibly as late as 1 or 2am, with conflicts in Gaza, Ukraine and European defence strategies at the top of the agenda. Also in attendance at today’s summit was United Nation’s chief Antonio Guterres.

Speaking to reporters alongside EU Council President Charles Michel earlier today, Guterres pleaded to EU leaders to avoid “double standards” and respect international law in Gaza in the same way they aim to uphold it in Ukraine.

Guterres said we live in a “chaotic world” and it is vital to stick to principles and international law. He said the number of casualties in Gaza is “unprecedented”.

Trade with Israel

On the EU-Israel trade deal, the Taoiseach said it is not about breaking off relations with Israel like some other EU member states seem to think, instead it is about using political leverage to “push them on the right path towards long-term peace and security”.

In recent months, the Taoiseach has backed calls for the trade agreement to be examined on the basis that Israel may be in breach of the human rights clause as a result of its actions in Gaza. 

He told reporters today that the EU High Representative of Human Rights is now going to carry out a report as to whether Israel is in  breach of the human rights clause.

“To me it’s a flagrant breach of the human rights clause. I can’t see how anyone would think otherwise. However, the European Union works by consensus,” the Taoiseach said. 


Elsewhere, Ukraine and the EU’s response to Russia’s aggression will also be a focus of the summit. 

As a $60 billion package remains stalled in Washington, the EU’s 27 leaders are debating a plan to spend profits from €200 billion in frozen Russian central bank assets on weapons for Ukraine.

Officials said that the proposal could unlock some €3 billion a year for Kyiv and that if EU countries agree quickly, the money could start flowing by July.

That would come on top of more than €33 billion that the EU says it has provided towards arming Ukraine since the Kremlin invaded in February 2022.

Defence is also a core topic being discussed in Brussels today with the EU frantically working on ways to get more weapons to Kyiv and to boost Europe’s defence industry to be able to arm Ukraine and build up its own forces.

Brussels has put forward a raft of proposals aimed at ramping up capacity but there are complaints that Europe is still not moving fast enough.

While Russia has put its economy on a war footing, the EU has fallen well short of a promise made last year to supply Ukraine with a million artillery shells by this month.

France, Estonia and Poland have pitched the idea of using joint borrowing similar to the massive package of support the EU came up with during the Covid pandemic to now fund defence spending.

But a majority of member states – led by the so-called “frugal” countries such as Germany – are unwilling to go anywhere near that far.

Instead, the discussion will likely focus on getting the EU’s lending arm, the European Investment Bank, to expand its funding for the sector.

At the moment, the bank is limited to investing in only a small number of “dual-use products” that can have both military and civilian functions.

Contains reporting from © AFP 2024 and Jane Matthews in Brussels.

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Jane Matthews & Muiris O'Cearbhaill