Possible sanctions on Israel discussed in ‘real way’ for first time at EU meeting

Micheál Martin condemns ‘barbaric’ Israeli air strikes on tents housing displaced people in Rafah

European Union foreign affairs ministers raised the prospect of placing sanctions on Israel in a “real way” for the first time over its continued military campaign in the besieged city of Rafah in Gaza, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said.

At least 45 people were killed on Sunday night when an Israeli air strike hit tents housing displaced people in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which took place despite the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordering Israel to immediately halt its assault on the city.

A meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers on Monday discussed the possibility of placing sanctions on Israel if its government continued to disregard the order of the United Nations court. Some ministers also raised the prospect of sanctioning Israeli government officials suspected of assisting violent settlers targeting Palestinians in the West Bank.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Martin said the recent air strikes in Rafah were “barbaric” and had led to a frank discussion about the EU taking stronger action against Israel. There were “very clear views” expressed by foreign ministers that Israel should adhere to the ICJ order to cease its military operation in Rafah, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said. “For the first time at an EU meeting in a real way I have seen significant discussion on sanctions,” he said.

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It was agreed the EU would raise its “grave concerns” and seek a response from Israel on whether it would comply with the international court order, he said.

“There have been sanctions against Hamas in respect of its murderous activity. There have been sanctions against violent West Bank settlers,” he said. “People talked today about potentially [targeting] Israeli government officials who may be aiding and abetting those violent West Bank settlers,” he said.

If there continued to be “a flagrant disregard” for the ICJ order to stop the assault in Rafah, the EU would have to consider taking action on a broader level, he said. Mr Martin noted there was a “long distance” between sanctions being discussed at a meeting and all member states agreeing to take action, given several countries remain ardent supporters of Israel.

In response to criticism of the air strikes on an area designated for displaced people, the Israeli military said its air force struck a Hamas compound, but that it was examining reports a fire that started as a result of the strikes had injured civilians.

Speaking earlier at a press conference in Brussels, Mr Martin said the portrayal of Ireland’s decision to recognise the state of Palestine as a reward for the terrorism of Hamas militants could not be further from the truth. The response of the Israeli government to the decision was “outside of diplomatic norms” and did not reflect well on Israel, he said.

Mr Martin said aid agencies had all predicted that any military assault on Rafah would have “dire consequences” for Palestinian civilians. He reiterated calls for a ceasefire, the release of hostages held by Hamas and a “massive surge” of humanitarian aid into the enclave.

The Fianna Fáil leader was speaking alongside foreign ministers from Spain and Norway, who have decided to recognise the state of Palestine alongside Ireland’s decision to do the same.

José Manuel Albares, Spanish foreign affairs minister, suggested the EU should consider taking action against Israel if it continued to ignore the recent ICJ court order. “I think that this time we have to raise our voice, not only for an immediate ceasefire, but also to back international law and the United Nations charter,” he said.

He said he would raise the matter at a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers to seek a statement backing the United Nations court. “If Israel continues to pursue [its assault] against that opinion of the International Court of Justice, that we try to take the right measures to enforce that decision,” he said.

Espen Barth Eide, Norwegian foreign affairs minister, said the ongoing war in Gaza was a “low point” in the history of the Middle East. “We have extreme violence in Gaza, we have Israelis living in fear of terrorism and rocket attacks, and we have settler violence and the expansion of illegal settlements in West Bank,” he said.

The Norwegian minister said too much space had been left for forces who did not want a two-state solution to “sabotage” the previous 1993 Oslo accord between Israel and Palestine.

Mr Martin said he hoped a number of other EU countries would follow suit and recognise the state of Palestine. The effort was a step towards a “just and lasting solution”, where “occupation and terrorism, dispossession and displacement have no role and are given no space”, he said.

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