The European Union (EU) will redouble its efforts to end the upsurge in violence between the Israeli military and Palestinian militants, and seek progress during a special meeting of its foreign ministers Tuesday, the bloc said.
The EU also called the weekend destruction of a building housing major international media “extremely worrying” and said safe working conditions for journalists were essential.
However, the EU has never had the impact Washington can wield in the region and no immediate breakthrough was expected from Tuesday’s meeting. Ever since the outbreak of violence last week, the EU has been calling for restraint and condemned attacks that hit civilian populations.
Because EU policy toward the region requires unanimity among the 27 EU member-nations, its actions and statements haven’t had the impact that could be expected from a bloc that has large trade and aid interests in the region.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and European Council President Charles Michel both called over the past days to call for an end to the escalation in violence and ensure that civilians get the best possible protection.
Tuesday’s meeting is to seek “how best that EU can contribute to diffusing the tensions, stop the escalation and stop the ongoing violence,” EU spokesman Peter Stano said.
Pro-Palestinian critics of EU policy insist the bloc has been far too lenient when it comes to imposing sanctions on Jerusalem, but since this too requires unanimity, the issue hasn’t yet surfaced for Tuesday’s meeting, Stano said.
“Let’s not jump ahead. Let’s focus on trying to diffuse the situation, trying to solve the situation to normal diplomatic and political means,” Stano said.
The fighting broke out last week, when the Hamas militant group fired long-range rockets at Jerusalem after weeks of clashes in the city between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police. The protests were focused on the heavy-handed policing of a flashpoint sacred site during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.
Since then, the Israeli military has launched hundreds of airstrikes that it says are targeting Hamas’ militant infrastructure. Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired more than 3,100 rockets into Israel.
At least 198 Palestinians have been killed in the strikes, including 58 children and 35 women, with 1,300 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Eight people in Israel have been killed in rocket attacks launched from Gaza, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier.
Over the weekend, Israel destroyed a building housing The Associated Press and other media, and claimed that Hamas used the building for a military intelligence office. The AP has called on Israel to provide evidence.
“The destruction of media offices in Gaza is extremely worrying and the safety and security of journalists and all their colleagues, the press people, is essential,” Stano said. “Independent reporting, especially in situations of conflict and especially from areas of conflict, is indispensable.”