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EU issues first joint demand for ceasefire in Gaza after October 7

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EU leaders issued their first joint demand for a humanitarian ceasefire and the release of all hostages in Gaza in joint summit statement on Thursday.

The statement called for “an immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire” and repeated condemnations of the attacks by Palestinian militant movement Hamas against Israel on October 7.

In the aftermath of the Hamas attacks, EU leaders managed in October to only call together for “humanitarian corridors and pauses” in Gaza to allow aid to reach Palestinian civilians.

European Council President Charles Michel called the statement “strong and unified” on X, formerly Twitter.

Ireland, Spain and Belgium pushed for the ceasefire at the summit in Brussels. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz agreed to the calls after previously opposing a ceasefire in October, citing Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Hamas.

Pressure was building for the bloc to take a stronger stance on the Israel-Hamas war.

“A ceasefire should have happened a long time ago,” said Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who announced on Wednesday that he will step down when a successor is in place.

The EU leaders’ demand for a ceasefire in Gaza repeated a call from their foreign ministers that Hungary, viewed as sympathetic to the Israeli government, abstained on.

Varadkar said at the start of the summit that Austria and the Czech Republic were preventing the EU from making a joint call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer countered that the EU must recognize the sexual violence carried out by Hamas during the October 7 attacks on Israel.

The statement from EU leaders later said it was “appalled by the sexual violence” during the October 7 attacks, noting UN reports on the issue and declared support for independent investigations.

EU leaders also called on Israel not to go ahead with a planned ground offensive in the southern city of Rafah on the Egyptian border, where 1.5 million Palestinians have sought refuge.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres joined talks in Brussels and urged the EU to support a ceasefire. He warned that civilian casualties in Gaza like in Ukraine must be condemned “without double standards.”

EU leaders also agreed that the revenues of Russian assets frozen in the EU should be used for the benefit of Ukraine as it resists the Russian invasion. Their declaration provides for “the possibility of funding military support” using the seized revenues.

But ahead of the meeting, Nehammer had said he wanted reassurances that if neutral countries like Austria endorse using the seized profits, the money will be used to rebuild Ukraine and not to arm it. Every EU leader has the power to veto such declarations.

“There was originally discussion that it should be invested in reconstruction in Ukraine,” Nehammer said earlier on Thursday. “That seems like a reasonable suggestion to me.”

At a press conference after the decision was announced, Michel said the declaration left room for the “specificities” of neutral countries.

EU leaders’ declaration on the use of the seized revenues is essentially a political green-light. But the legal details still need to be agreed by foreign ministers, based on a plan prepared by EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.

“I am confident that we can act very quickly and put in place this mechanism,” Michel said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen added: “if we are swift now in concluding the proposal, we could disburse the first billion on the 1 July.”

Borrell’s plan would see 90% of the appropriated revenue from frozen Russian assets go to an off-budget EU military aid fund.

The other 10% would be added to the EU budget and used to strengthen Ukraine’s industrial capacity to produce armaments of its own, according to Borrell.

Leaders also endorsed a proposal from the commission to strengthen the EU’s armaments industry by allocating €1.5 billion ($1.6 billion) to joint procurement of military equipment is also set for scrutiny.

Michel said there was “broad support” among EU leaders for working with the independent European Investment Bank to maximise investment.

EU leaders also backed the conditional opening of EU membership talks with Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Von der Leyen said that the commission has “prepared a proposal to increase tariffs on Russian and Belarussian imports of cereals, oil, seeds and derived products.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (L) and President of the European Council Charles Michel speak during a press conference after the EU summit in Brussels. Alexandros Michailidis/European Council/dpa

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (L) and President of the European Council Charles Michel speak during a press conference after the EU summit in Brussels. Alexandros Michailidis/European Council/dpa

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