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EU convenes Israel to discuss respect of human rights and ICJ ruling on Rafah

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Euronews | 27 May 2024

EU convenes Israel to discuss respect of human rights and ICJ ruling on Rafah

By Mared Gwyn Jones

The breakthrough comes three month after Ireland and Spain first pressed on the EU executive to re-open its trade deal with Israel.

European Union foreign ministers unanimously agreed on Monday to call for an Association Council with Israel to discuss the country’s compliance with its human rights obligations under the EU-Israel trade deal, also known as the Association Agreement.

The bloc also intends to use the meeting to confront Netanyahu’s government about its compliance with Friday’s ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which ordered Israel to halt its intended military offensive in the city of Rafah.

The move comes three months after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and the then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar first made a plea for the urgent review of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, citing serious concerns over Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and potential violations of human rights and international law.

Article 2 of that agreement, struck in 2000, stipulates that the agreement is "based on respect for human rights and democratic principles."

Europe is Israel’s main trading partner, accounting for just under a third of all commerce, meaning the Agreement is seen as a powerful tool for the bloc to exert pressure on Netanyahu’s war cabinet to refrain from its offensive in the war-torn Gaza Strip.

Despite the firm backing of human rights groups and the UN’s special rapporteur on Palestine, the EU had failed to garner political backing for the move until the breakthrough on Monday.

"We got the necessary unanimity to call for an Association Council with Israel to discuss the situation in Gaza (...) and the respect of human rights under the obligations that Israel has assumed under the Association Council and how they plan to implement the ruling of the court," Borrell told reporters, referring to Friday’s ruling by the Hague-based court.

"But what we have seen since the court has issued its ruling (is) not the stop of military activities but on the contrary an increase in the military activities, an increase in the bombing and an increase in the casualties to the civilian people, as we have seen last night," Borrell added.

On Sunday, an Israeli air strike on a camp of displaced Palestinians in the southern Gazan town of Rafah left at least 45 dead, including women and children, prompting global condemnation.

"The last figure seems to be around 40 people, including a small children being burned. I condemn this in the strongest terms. It proves that there is no safe place in Gaza," Borrell said, describing the images, including those of burnt children, coming out of Rafah as "shocking."

The IDF has since opened an investigation into the massacre, claiming it was targeting two senior Hamas officials.

EU foreign ministries have harshly criticised the attack, with the German foreign ministry saying the "images of charred bodies" are "unbearable."

Bloc ups pressure on Israel amid diplomatic spats

Responding to the decision to convene an Association Council, Belgian foreign minister Hadja Lahbib said the move was a "strong signal."

"We must ensure that our rules and values are respected by all, and above all by our partners like Israel. Our credibility depends on it," Lahbib, whose government is a staunch supporter of the Palestinians, added.

Other foreign ministers, such as Slovenia’s Tanja Fajon, called for the bloc to go further by slapping sanctions on Israel for its continued violations of international law in its Gaza offensive.

"I strongly condemn Israel’s attack last night on the displaced Palestinians, in which many children were also burned to death," Fajon, whose government is taking steps to recognise the State of Palestine, said on social media platform X.

"In Brussels (...) today I will stand up for respect for international humanitarian law and decision (of the) ICJ. In case of continuing violations, (the) EU must react uniformly and decisively, including sanctions," Fajon added.

Borrell declined to comment on whether he believed his Israeli counterparts would agree to attend the Association Council, amid increasing diplomatic tensions with two member states - Ireland and Spain - which announced last Wednesday they would formally recognise the State of Palestine tomorrow, May 28.

A diplomatic row has since erupted, particularly between Israel and Borrell’s native Spain, with Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz issuing a statement Monday morning announcing his government would prohibit Spain from providing consular services to Palestinians in the West Bank.

Katz has also accused Spain’s recognition of Palestine as a "reward for terrorism."

Borrell described the escalation as "everything but diplomatic." "This is a completely unjustified and extreme verbal aggression," he added.

The bloc’s top diplomat also acknowledged there was no unanimous appetite to consider sanctioning Israel for its actions in Gaza but suggested their stance could shift if Netanyahu’s government "continues to ignore" the ICJ’s ruling.

 source: Euronews