EU top diplomat calls for civilians to be protected during visit to Israel

The European Union’s top diplomat on Thursday reiterated from Israel his call for civilian lives in Gaza to be protected as he started a five-day tour of the region.

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High representative Josep Borrell’s visit to Israel kicked off with a visit to Kibbutz Be’eri, located only 3 kilometers away from Gaza, where at least 130 people including women, children, and babies were killed by Hamas militants on 7 October. At least 1,400 Israelis were killed in the terrorist attack with a further 240 people kidnapped. 

“I understand the fear and pain of the people who have been attacked, slaughtered, kidnapped. I understand your rage. But let me ask you not to be consumed by rage,” Borrell said.

“I think that’s what the best friend of Israel can tell you. What makes the difference between a civilized society and a terrorist group is the respect for human life,” he also said. 

He also once more backed Israel’s right to self-defence within the limits of international humanitarian law, called for Hamas — which the EU and US consider to be a terrorist organisation — to be defeated and for all the hostages to be freed without conditions. 

Israel has retaliated against the October 7 attack with a heavy bombing campaign against the Hamas-run Gaza Strip that has so far killed over 11,000 people, according to local authorities. Israeli forces have also besieged the enclave. Fuel is now so scarce some critical infrastructure, including desalination plants and hospitals, can barely power themselves.

Humanitarian aid has meanwhile trickled into Gaza as just one land border crossing, with Egypt, is now open. Dozens of humanitarian trucks pass by the Rafah crossing daily, a huge decrease from the 500 that did so every day before the latest escalation. 

Borrell called for unhindered humanitarian access to Gaza and the establishment of humanitarian corridors and pauses, as requested by EU leaders during their summit in late October. 

Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen, who accompanied Borrell to the Kibbutz, said: “We all should be united to free Gaza from Hamas for the security of the state of Israel, for the people in Gaza, and for the entire world. Otherwise, Europe will be the next.”

The High Representative will also visit the West Bank, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will meanwhile travel to Egypt and Jordan over the weekend.