In a dramatic statement issued Tuesday evening, the 28 foreign ministers of EU member states called for the disarmament of Hamas and other militant groups in the Gaza Strip. The statement, which was issued at the end of the monthly meeting of the Council of the European Union, included a strong condemnation of Hamas for its rocket fire and for using the civilian population as human shields.
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The statement was issued after a diplomatic wrangle within the EU and after intensive lobbying efforts by Israeli ambassadors all over the continent. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, former British Foreign Secretary William Hague and his successor, Philip Hammond, helped to remove from the statement clauses that were critical of Israel.
“The EU strongly condemns the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and militant groups in the Gaza Strip, directly harming civilians. These are criminal and unjustifiable acts. The EU calls on Hamas to immediately put an end to these acts and to renounce violence. All terrorist groups in Gaza must disarm. The EU strongly condemns calls on the civilian population of Gaza to provide themselves as human shields,” the statement said, in part.
Israeli officials welcomed the statement. The Foreign Ministry said: “The European Union reinforced its position vis-a-vis Hamas as a terror organization ... These statements on the part of the EU are consistent with the concept that guides Israel in its struggle against terrorism, and opens the door for cooperation in implementing the common principles of restoring calm and security."
In its statement, the EU Council called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip, based on a return to the November 2012 cease-fire agreement reached at the conclusion of Operation Pillar of Defense.
“The EU condemns the loss of hundreds of civilian lives, among them many women and children. While recognizing Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself against any attacks, the EU underlines that the Israeli military operation must be proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law. The EU stresses the need for protection of civilians at all times. The EU is particularly appalled by the human cost of the Israeli military operation in Shuja’iyya, and is deeply concerned at the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation.”
The statement called for the opening of the Gaza Strip’s border crossings and expressed willingness to return European observers to the Rafah crossing to Egypt if conditions allow.
It also called for resuming the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, “based on the following parameters:
"An agreement on the borders of the two states, based on 4 June 1967 lines with equivalent land swaps as may be agreed between the parties.
"Security arrangements that, for Palestinians, respect their sovereignty and show that the occupation is over; and, for Israelis, protect their security, prevent the resurgence of terrorism and deal effectively with security threats, including with new and vital threats in the region.
"A just, fair, agreed and realistic solution to the refugee question.
"Fulfilment of the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem. A way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states.”
In addition, the statement called on Israel "to halt continued settlement expansion ... which severely threatens the two state solution" and called on the Palestinian leadership "to use constructively its UN status and not to undertake steps which would lead further away from a negotiated solution" to the conflict.