Simon Harris calls for de-escalation of Iran-Israel tensions to avoid ‘catastrophe’

EU leaders say they will take further sanctions against Iran following the country’s recent strikes on Israel

A failure to de-escalate growing tensions between Iran and Israel could result in “very significant catastrophe and bloodshed” for millions of people in the Middle East, Taoiseach Simon Harris has said.

European Union leaders are meeting for a two-day summit in Brussels where they are due to discuss Iran’s recent attack on Israel, the war in Gaza, and financial reforms to make the EU more competitive economically.

Late last night they issued a statement saying the EU will take further sanctions against Iran following the country’s recent attack on Israel, in particular with regard to the production of drones and missiles.

Draft language circulating before the meeting proposed EU leaders call for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza. If agreed during the European Council meeting this would be a step further than their statement last month, where leaders called for an “immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire”.

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The draft text also proposed leaders reiterate calls for the unconditional release of hostages taken by Hamas in their October 7th attack in southern Israel, as well as pushing for Israel to allow “unhindered” access of humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza.

Speaking ahead of the meeting of EU leaders, Mr Harris said he supported expanded sanctions targeting Iran, following its missile and drone attacks on Israel at the weekend. “The European position that is emerging is quite clear, it is one that needs to be focused on de-escalation, it’s one that needs to appeal to all parties to show restraint,” he said. “Anything other than de-escalation and restraint results in very significant catastrophe and bloodshed for many millions of people in a region that is already unstable.”

There was a “need for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza” and the release of hostages held by Hamas, Mr Harris added. “I do intend to use the opportunity of being here to talk to other colleagues, about the possibility of other countries wishing to move with Ireland, with Spain, to recognise the State of Palestine.”

The council discussion on Wednesday evening was set to focus on foreign policy, where leaders were to discuss Iran’s recent missile attacks on Israel. However, ahead of the meeting one EU official said there was unlikely to be any agreement on placing specific new sanctions on Iran, with foreign affairs ministers to continue the discussion next week.

The summit is also due to discuss the vulnerable position of Lebanon in the region, and current EU relations with Turkey. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy is to join the start of the meeting by video conference to deliver a short address, where he is expected to appeal to EU leaders to keep Ukraine high on their agenda.

Speaking on his way into the meeting, Belgian prime minister Alexander de Croo said the Iranian Revolutionary Guard should be put on a sanctions list.

Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer said while it was Hamas who were “guilty” for what was happening in Gaza, he supported humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people, as they were also the “hostages” of the militant group.

On Ukraine, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said the priority had to be to get more shells and munitions to the battlefield, as well as Patriot air defence systems. The stability and security of Europe was at risk if Russia was allowed win the war, he said. - Additional reporting: Reuters

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