EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell on Monday (12 February) urged allies of Israel – primarily the United States – to stop sending it weapons as “too many people” are being killed in Gaza.
Pointing to US President Joe Biden’s comment last week that Israel’s military action was “over the top”, Borrell said: “Well, if you believe that too many people are being killed, maybe you should provide less arms in order to prevent so many people have been killed.”
“Is (it) not logical?” he asked, in a Brussels news conference alongside Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA whom Israel is pressuring to resign.
“How many times have you heard the most prominent leaders and foreign ministers around the world saying too many people are being killed?” Borrell asked.
In his remarks in Brussels, Borrell also sharply criticised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying he was not listening to pleas to do more to protect civilians and a call for the more than one million Palestinians sheltering in the Gaza city of Rafah to be “evacuated” ahead of a planned Israeli military operation there.
“Everybody goes to Tel Aviv, begging ‘please don’t do that, protect civilians, don’t kill so many’. How many is too many? What is the standard?” Borrell said, appearing angry and emotional. “Netanyahu doesn’t listen (to) anyone.”
“They are going to evacuate – where? To the moon? Where are they going to evacuate these people?” Borrell asked.
The Gaza war was sparked by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas’s unprecedented 7 October attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Vowing to eliminate Hamas, Israel launched a massive military offensive in Gaza that the territory’s health ministry says has killed at least 28,340 people, mostly women and children.
Lazzarini told the news conference, held after a meeting of EU ministers tasked with development aid issues, that he was not going to resign, as Israel was demanding.
“No, I have no intention to resign,” he said.
“We have one government calling for the resignation. We might have other voices, but I haven’t heard any other government.”
‘Deep sense of panic’
Lazzarini said he took Israeli allegations that 12 UNRWA staff members were involved in Hamas’s 7 October attack so seriously that he sacked those employees and the UN has started an independent investigation.
He said he was “calling for and hope the Israeli authorities will cooperate” with the investigation to determine whether the allegations can be substantiated.
He also said Israel’s claim that a Hamas tunnel was found under the UNRWA’s Gaza headquarters – whose existence he has already denied knowledge of – should be investigated once the current conflict is over.
With some countries suspending funding to UNRWA, the agency would fall into the red to the tune of $30 million to $40 million next month, and then even deeper in April, as it needs $60 million to cover the salaries of its 30,000 workers, he said.
Lazzarini added there was a “deep sense of panic” regarding Israeli’s planned operation in Rafah, given the “unspeakable” civilian toll so far.
“We talk about 5% of the population which has been either killed, either injured or is missing — more than a hundred thousand people out of a population of two million. And this in only four months,” he said.
“To tell you the truth, I have no idea what a safe place means in the Gaza Strip,” he said.
[Edited by Alexandra Brzozowski]