President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen arrives for a EU leaders Summit at The European Council Building in Brussels on October 26, 2023. EU leaders will debate starting October 26, 2023, in a two day summit in Brussels, for a call for humanitarian “pauses” in Israel’s war with Hamas, as the bloc grapples with another conflict on its fringes alongside Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)
(AFP) – EU leaders will on Thursday debate calling for “pauses” in Israel‘s war with Hamas to get aid into Gaza, as the bloc weighs how to respond to another conflict as fighting rages in Ukraine.
The European Union has struggled for both unity and influence in the face of the crisis that has engulfed the Middle East since Hamas launched its attack on Israel on October 7.
The surge in bloodshed has stretched Europe’s attention at a time of rising doubts about the West’s ability to keep supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia.
The 27-nation bloc has long been split between more pro-Palestinian members such as Ireland and Spain, and staunch backers of Israel including Germany and Austria.
There has been strong condemnation of the Hamas attack that Israel says killed at least 1,400 people and resulted in more than 200 being taken hostage.
But there has been less consensus on urging any halt to Israel‘s retaliatory bombardment of Gaza, which the Hamas-run health ministry says has killed over 7,000 people.
After days of negotiations, the latest draft statement for the summit, seen by AFP, calls for “humanitarian corridors and pauses”.
That was updated from an earlier draft that had the formulation “a humanitarian pause” so that aid can reach civilians in Gaza.
That statement — which could still change when leaders meet in Brussels — falls short of demands from the United Nations for a “ceasefire”.
Germany, wary of urging a more definitive halt that could tie Israel‘s hands, had argued for the call to be humanitarian “windows” or “pauses” in the plural.
“We feel that civilians must be protected always and everywhere. We will have a good decision,” European Council chief Charles Michel said just ahead of the summit’s start.
Diplomats from some EU nations warn that delays over finding the right words as the death toll mounts are hitting the bloc’s global standing and leaving it flailing in the face of developments.
“We can feel that some in the world are using the circumstances to try to rally a part of the international community to attack the European Union,” Michel said.
– Ukraine overshadowed? –
The eruption of violence in the Middle East has sparked fears the West could get distracted from Russia’s war on Ukraine 20 months into the invasion.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has vowed “support will in no way be impacted,” and Ukraine‘s President Volodymyr Zelensky will call in to the summit.
But a fracture in EU unity on that appeared Thursday when Slovakia’s new populist Prime Minister Robert Fico said his government was stopping its military aid to Ukraine.
Chief among EU measures meant to reassure Kyiv is a plan — earlier estimated at 20 billion euros ($21 billion) over four years — for a defence fund for Ukraine as part of broader Western security commitments.
Leaders are set to task the bloc’s foreign policy chief to report back on the issue in December.
There will also be calls to impose new sanctions on Moscow that could include banning Russian diamond imports once the G7 agrees on a way of tracing them.
In addition, a plan for using the revenues from frozen Russian assets to aid Ukraine will be discussed.
Looming over the discussion on Ukraine will be the country’s next steps in its push to join the EU.
The bloc’s executive arm is to give an assessment on November 8 on whether to open formal accession talks with Kyiv that will be debated by leaders in December.
© Agence France-Presse