Declaration made as European countries face criticism of employing double standard on human rights, international law.
European Union leaders have called for humanitarian pauses in the fighting between Israel and the armed Palestinian group Hamas as the Gaza Strip reels under an Israeli bombardment and siege.
Leaders at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday issued a declaration calling for a halt to the fighting to establish humanitarian corridors and get much-needed aid into Gaza.
“The European Council expresses its gravest concern for the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza and calls for continued, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access and aid to reach those in need through all necessary measures including humanitarian corridors and pauses for humanitarian needs,” the declaration said.
The declaration was made as criticism grows from around the Middle East about Israel’s campaign of air raids and a “complete siege”, which has cut off access to food, water, electricity and fuel for the strip’s 2.3 million inhabitants.
The summit on Thursday is the first in-person meeting since Hamas carried out attacks on October 7 on southern Israel, which killed more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians.
The assault by Hamas has been widely condemned with grim scenes emerging from towns in southern Israel where Palestinian gunmen massacred families and kidnapped more than 200 people.
The EU leaders reiterated previous calls for the immediate release of those held captive “without any precondition” and emphasised Israel’s right to defend itself “in line with international law”.
But such statements, similar to others made by the United States, have rung hollow to some as Israel carries out devastating air strikes that have levelled entire neighbourhoods and killed more than 7,000 people in Gaza, some in zones where Israel had told Palestinians to move to seek safety.
In the Middle East, protesters have criticised Israel’s allies as hypocritical.
In the US, Palestinian groups expressed outrage when President Joe Biden reacted to the death toll in Gaza by casting doubt on the reliability of the figures provided by the Ministry of Health in Gaza, which is governed by Hamas.
Health services in Gaza have been stretched to their limits as Israel’s siege chokes off access to much-needed medical supplies and doctors work under the light of phones as fuel supplies run out.
Over the past week, a handful of trucks has begun delivering aid to Gaza through the strip’s crossing with Egypt, the only remaining point of exit and entry.
However, the supply of aid has been neither consistent nor adequate to address the scope of civilian suffering with United Nations chief Antonio Guterres calling the efforts a “drop of aid in an ocean of need”.