Germany calls for truce in Israel-Gaza violence, offers more aid

BRUSSELS/BERLIN (REUTERS) – Germany called for a ceasefire in fighting between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and offered more aid to help Palestinians on Tuesday (May 18) before emergency European Union talks that are expected to highlight divisions over the conflict.

The call for a truce follows US President Joe Biden’s support for a ceasefire during a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday.

Germany made the comments before a video call of the EU’s 27 foreign ministers chaired by chief Josep Borrell to discuss how to end the conflict, although diplomats warned that differing opinions over the Middle East would marginalise the bloc’s role.

“An end to the violence is the first priority,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a video statement streamed on social media, as the fiercest hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians in years continued.

“Today, I will lobby for a better humanitarian supply in Gaza,” Mr Maas said, pledging €40 million euros (S$65 million) to ramp up humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza.

The EU is Israel’s biggest trade partner and a big aid donor to the Palestinians but has been reluctant to use such leverage or discuss possible economic sanctions on Israel’s government.

The EU has long played a back seat to the United States in Middle East peace negotiations and has had limited influence in the region.

Preparations for joint statements in the EU are divisive and Tuesday’s meeting is unlikely to produce any new policies.

Diplomats said even organising the video call was slow, drawing criticism for a lack of a Western response from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

One senior EU diplomat told Reuters the weak response was “not terribly encouraging”, stressing the divided loyalties of the EU’s 27 members.

At least eight smaller EU states, led by Luxembourg and including Belgium, Ireland, Malta and Finland, are vocal defenders of the Palestinians. They say the EU must do more to support Palestinians in their drive for statehood.

Other countries, including Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria, Greece, Cyprus and Poland, are ready to defend Israel’s interests. Austria flew an Israeli flag over the federal chancellery in Vienna on Friday.

Germany, which still carries the burden of guilt over the Nazi crimes of World War Two, is unwilling to discuss coercive measures against Israel.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides expressed frustration with the EU’s diplomatic deadlock.

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“The European Union should have, right now, a leading role (in diffusing the crisis). It doesn’t have that role, either because of differences in approach by member states or because there is no strategic approach from Brussels,” he told Cyprus’s Alpha TV.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday he would work with Egypt’s president and Jordan’s king on a concrete proposal for a ceasefire and a possible path to discussions between Israel and the Palestinians.

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