Monday, 17 May 2021 04:01

Germany urges end to Middle East violence as EU calls talks Featured


German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Sunday (16 May) it is “imperative” for Israelis and Palestinians to stop fighting and resume talks ahead of an emergency meeting this week with his EU counterparts.

The “highly explosive” situation in the region could lead to “unforeseeable consequences”, Maas warned in a tweet, adding: “It is imperative that we prevent this from happening.”

“What is needed now is: 1. an end to the rocket attacks, 2. an end to the violence and 3. a return to talks between Israelis & Palestinians and on a two-state solution,” he said.

European Union foreign ministers will hold urgent video talks on the escalating fighting between Israel and the Palestinians on Tuesday, the bloc’s foreign policy chief said.

World powers call for de-escalation after Israel clashes

Calls grew on Wednesday (12 May) for a de-escalation of violence after intense hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians that have left at least 65 dead and hundreds injured.

“In view of the ongoing escalation between Israel and Palestine and the unacceptable number of civilian casualties, I am convening an extraordinary VTC of the EU Foreign Ministers on Tuesday,” Josep Borrell wrote on Twitter Sunday.

“We will coordinate and discuss how the EU can best contribute to end the current violence.”

The heaviest fighting since 2014 between Israel and Islamist group Hamas, sparked by unrest in Jerusalem, has claimed 174 lives in the crowded coastal enclave of Gaza and killed 10 people in Israel since Monday.

The European Union says Borrell has been conducting “intense” diplomatic efforts to try to help de-escalate the violence — holding talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and the top diplomats from neighbouring nations.

“The EU’s priority and message in this context remains clear: violence must end now,” the bloc’s foreign service said in a statement Saturday.

The EU’s 27 nations often struggle to find a common position over the conflict with some members including Germany, Austria and Slovenia firmly supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and others urging it show greater restraint.

Israel’s army said Sunday that about 3,000 rockets had been fired from the coastal strip controlled by Hamas towards Israel, “of which approximately 450 failed launches fell in the Gaza Strip”.

Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system had intercepted over a thousand rockets in almost a week during which Israeli residential buildings have been hit, with over 500 people wounded.

Media offices destroyed

The bloodiest military conflict in seven years has also sparked a wave of inter-communal violence and mob attacks between Jews and Arab-Israelis, as well as deadly clashes in the occupied West Bank, where 19 Palestinians have been killed since last Monday.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it had targeted the infrastructure of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, including by pounding a vast tunnel system with some 100 strikes, and by targeting weapon factories and storage sites.

Israeli air strikes also hit the home of Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas’ political wing in the Gaza Strip, the army said, releasing a video showing plumes of smoke and intense damage, but without saying if he was killed.

At least 52 children have lost their lives in Gaza, 1,225 people have been reported wounded and entire buildings and city blocks reduced to rubble.

The IDF says it takes all possible precautions to avoid harming civilians and has blamed Hamas for deliberately placing military targets in densely populated areas.

One strike on Gaza killed 10 members of an extended family.

The children “didn’t carry weapons, they didn’t fire rockets”, said Mohammad al-Hadidi, one of the grieving fathers.

Some 10,000 Gazans have fled their homes near the Israeli border for fear of a ground offensive, the UN said.

“They are sheltering in schools, mosques and other places during a global Covid-19 pandemic with limited access to water, food, hygiene and health services,” UN humanitarian official Lynn Hastings said.

Balls of flame and a cloud of debris shot into the sky Saturday afternoon as Israel’s air force flattened the 13-floor Gaza building housing Qatar-based Al Jazeera and the Associated Press news agency, after giving a warning to evacuate.

Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Walid al-Omari, told AFP: “It is clear that those who are waging this war do not only want to spread destruction and death in Gaza, but also to silence media that are witnessing, documenting and reporting the truth.”

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said he was “shocked and horrified” by the attack.

Israeli defence officials said the building housed not only news bureaus but offices of Hamas militants.

AFP Chairman Fabrice Fries said the agency “stands in solidarity with all the media whose offices were destroyed in Gaza” and called on all parties “to respect the media’s freedom to report on events”.

UN Security Council to meet

UN Secretary-General António Guterres was “dismayed” by civilian casualties in Gaza and “deeply disturbed” by Israel’s strike on Saturday on the tower housing the Associated Press and Al Jazeera bureaus, a spokesperson said. The UN Security Council was due to meet at 1400 GMT Sunday.

Israel ally Washington, which had blocked a UNSC meeting scheduled for Friday, has been criticised for not doing enough to stem the bloodshed.

US President Joe Biden again underscored Israel’s right to defend itself in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Biden also expressed his “grave concern” over the violence as well as for the safety of journalists.

Earlier Saturday, Biden also spoke to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in their first call since the US president took office.

US Secretary for Israel-Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr was to hold talks Sunday with Israeli leaders before meeting Palestinian officials to seek a “sustainable calm”, the State Department said.

In a televised statement late Saturday, Netanyahu thanked Biden for “unequivocal support”.