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Spain and Ireland call for ’urgent review’ of EU-Israel agreement over war in Gaza

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Euronews | 14 February 2024

Spain and Ireland call for ’urgent review’ of EU-Israel agreement over war in Gaza

By Jorge Liboreiro

Prime ministers Pedro Sánchez and Leo Varadkar have asked the European Commission to "undertake an urgent review" of the EU-Israel agreement in light of the war in Gaza and the worsening humanitarian crisis.

In a joint letter addressed to Ursula von der Leyen and sent on Wednesday morning, the two leaders raise serious concerns over Israel’s military campaign and potential violations of human rights and international law. They emphasized the recent resolution of the United Nations General Assembly and the ruling of the International Court of Justice, which found some of Israel’s actions "may fall" within the Genocide Convention.

Among the bloc’s 27 member states, Spain and Ireland, together with Belgium, are considered the most critical voices of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and have touted plans to recognise the state of Palestine.

"The horrendous terrorist attacks committed by Hamas and other armed groups do not, and cannot, justify any breaches of (international humanitarian law) in the military response, with the resulting consequences for the civilian population of Gaza," Sánchez and Varadkar write.

"We have made clear view (sic) that, to prevent further irreversible harm to the people of Gaza, an immediate humanitarian ceasefire is urgently required."

The two leaders voice alarm over reports that Israel might soon launch a ground operation in Rafah, the border city in the south of Gaza where more than one million civilians are sheltering. The Israeli government claims Rafah is the last stronghold of Hamas, which it has vowed to dismantle in reaction to the 7 October attacks.

This offensive, they say, will cause an "even greater humanitarian catastrophe."

The war has already killed more than 28,000 Palestinians, including 12,000 children and 8,000 women, according to the Hamas-run health ministry of Gaza.

"We ask that the Commission undertake an urgent review of whether Israel is complying with its obligations, including under the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which makes respect for human rights and democratic principles an essential element of the relationship," Sánchez and Varadkar say.

If the Commission concludes that such a breach exists, it should propose "appropriate measures" for member states to consider, they add, without specifying which ones.

"The implementation of the two-state solution is the only way to make sure this cycle of violence does not repeat itself. The EU has a responsibility to take action to make this a reality," the premiers conclude.

Reacting to the joint move, a Commission spokesperson confirmed the letter had been received a "few minutes ago" and declined to comment on possible next steps.

"We do urge all sides (to) respect international law and we note that there must be accountability for violations of international law," the spokesperson said.

"The EU consistently underlines the importance of ensuring the protection of all civilians and at all times in line with international humanitarian law and it deplores all loss of civilian lives. The EU continues to pass this message in all its statements but also as well bilaterally in its contacts with the Israeli authorities."

In force since 2000, the EU–Israel Association Agreement is the chief legal instrument that governs bilateral relations among the two partners, covering political dialogue, trade, competition, technology, science, innovation and the fight against anti-Semitism, xenophobia and racism, among other subjects.

Article 2 states that relations "shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this agreement."

Additionally, Israel receives about €1.8 million per year as part of the bloc’s European Neighbourhood Policy and is an associated country of Horizon Europe, the EU’s flagship research programme endowed with €95.5 billion for the 2021-2027 period.

 source: Euronews