EU increases aid, calls for humanitarian pause as war rages in Gaza

Middle East AP - Mohammed Alaswad
NOV 6, 2023 LISTEN
AP - Mohammed Alaswad

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Monday said the EU is increasing its humanitarian aid for Gaza by 25 million euros. This comes as Israeli forces pushed on with intense strikes targeting Palestinian militants in the besieged area with the Hamas-run health ministry reporting a death toll of over 10,000.

"By doing so the European Union will spend a total of 100 million euros in humanitarian aid for the civilians in Gaza," von der Leyen told EU diplomats in Brussels.

Von der Leyen said flows of aid into Gaza from Egypt "remain too small" and the EU was working on setting up other possible routes including deliveries via sea from Cyprus.

A staunch supporter of Israel, Von der Leyen said it was essential the country "strives to avoid civilian casualties" in its operation in Gaza. 

The Israeli army said on Monday it had carried out "significant" strikes on 450 targets, having said last week it had already hit over 12,000. 

The Israeli military accuses Hamas of building tunnels underneath hospitals, schools and places of worship in Gaza to hide fighters, store arms and ammunition, and plan attacks – charges the militant group has denied.

Children under the rubble

"Hamas is clearly using innocent Palestinians and hostages as human shields – it is horrific and it is pure evil," von der Leyen said.

"Our hearts bleed at the images of small children pulled out from under the rubble."

Von der Leyen told diplomats that even as conflict rages, there needs to be a "perspective" for a two-state solution.

She insisted a prerequisite once the fighting stops is that "Gaza can be no safe haven for terrorists" and Hamas will no longer be in charge of the territory.

"Different ideas are being discussed on how this can be ensured, including an international peace force under UN mandate," she said.

Humanitarian pause

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday suggested a plan under which Israel could suspend its military operation in Gaza in return for the Red Cross getting access to hostages held by Hamas.

"I think that a humanitarian pause counterbalanced by an access to hostages with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as a first step to their release is an initiative in which we should work," Borrell told European Union diplomats in Brussels.

The EU, United States and Britain have been pushing for "humanitarian pauses" in the fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza to ensured people in the besieged territory get help.

But Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out any temporary truces until all hostages seized in Hamas's 7 October attack are released.

Lives torn apart

The heads of 18 organizations including UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization described the horrific toll on both sides since the October attack on Israel, which left about 1,400 people dead, mainly civilians, according to Israeli authorities.

"For almost a month, the world has been watching the unfolding situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory in shock and horror at the spiralling numbers of lives lost and torn apart," the UN chiefs said.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has wrapped up his whirlwind diplomatic tour of the Middle East with talks with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara on Monday, stressing that Washington is working "very aggressively" to expand the amount of aid reaching civilians in Gaza.

"We engage the Israelis on the steps that they can take to minimise civilian casualties," he added.

In return, Blinken's counterpart Hakan Fidan pressed the US secretary of state to support an "immediate" ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, a Turkish diplomatic source told reporters.

Rafah border crossing

Elsewhere, six ambulances carrying wounded Palestinians arrived in Egypt on Monday through the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip, a border official told French agency AFP.

The patients were undergoing medical examinations at the border before being transferred to hospitals, the official said, adding the passage of foreigners trapped in Gaza was also expected to resume on Monday.

(With newswires)