EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell on Monday called on the international community, and particularly the U.S., to stop providing arms to Israel in light of the growing number of civilians being killed in Gaza.
“Everybody goes to Tel Aviv begging please protect civilians, don’t kill so many. How many is too many?” Borrell said during a meeting of EU ministers.
If the international community is worried about the death toll, “maybe they have to think about the provision of arms,” he said. Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, also cited a Monday Dutch court ruling ordering the Netherlands government to halt shipments of components to Israel for F-35 fighter jets.
His comments come after U.S. President Joe Biden said last week that Israel’s response to Hamas in the Gaza Strip has been “over the top.” The death toll from Israel’s retaliatory bombings after the October 7 attacks by Hamas has now surpassed 28,000 people, according to Gaza’s health authorities.
Borrell noted the U.S. had taken a similar decision on arms supplies to Israel in its 2006 conflict with Lebanon “because Israel didn’t want to stop the war; exactly the same thing that happens today.”
A series of Israeli strikes hit Rafah in southern Gaza early Monday, killing dozens of people. Israel plans a ground assault in the city, which borders on Egypt, and where almost 1.5 million Palestinians are crammed seeking safety.
Western leaders have decried Israel’s invasion plan, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “doesn’t listen to anyone,” Borrell said. “Where are they going to evacuate [Palestinians]?” he asked. “To the moon?”
The EU ministers voiced support for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which has recently taken fire amid Israeli allegations that members of its staff abetted the October 7 Hamas attacks.
“Many member states stated there is no alternative for Gaza and that we must prevent funding gaps,” said Belgium’s Minister of Development Cooperation Caroline Gennez.
Gennez said there was an “agreement amongst the member states that full transparency is needed from all sides,” adding that details of the Israeli reports haven’t been shared with donor countries or the UNRWA itself.
“It’s not a secret that the Israeli government wants to get rid of UNRWA,” Borrell said, but “there’s only one way in which the agency can be dissolved […] through the creation of two states.”
Several EU countries and international donors have suspended funding to UNRWA since Israel’s allegations, cutting the agency’s budget by more than half.
For UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini, the agency’s collapse would be “short-sighted” and would not contribute to the recent ruling from the International Court of Justice to ensure humanitarian aid in Gaza. “The coming days will tell us if we will be able to continue to operate in an extraordinarily challenging environment,” he said.
Lazzarini added that Sunday was “the first time the U.N. could not operate with a minimum of protection,” and deplored the looting of trucks filled with aid for Palestinians at the border.
The European Commission has yet to decide whether it will provide an €82 million payment to the U.N. agency by the end of the month, as two investigations are underway.