Since last Monday (10 May), the Palestinian terrorist organisation Hamas has fired more than 3000 missiles on Israel from Gaza. In response to this massive barrage of rockets, the Israeli army is attacking Hamas positions, tunnel systems and weapons depots in the Gaza Strip. The escalation in violence was preceded by tensions in Jerusalem. The impact is devastating: there have been numerous casualties and injuries on both sides, and the people are living in constant fear of attacks. Israel is seeing violent clashes between the various population groups. In the Gaza Strip, the humanitarian situation, already difficult, is rapidly worsening. According to the UN, over 50,000 people in Gaza have lost their homes.
Meeting of EU Foreign Ministers
Today (18 May), EU Foreign Ministers will hold a virtual meeting convened specially to discuss how the European Union can help defuse the situation. Speaking prior to the meeting, Foreign Minister Maas emphasised the EU’s role in the Middle East Quartet (comprising the United States, Russia, the UN and the EU), which is an important format for the Middle East peace process:
One way in which the EU can contribute is through the Middle East Quartet, which is once again active. We greatly support this. Our voice in this format is the new EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process, Sven Koopmans, and we are in favour of expanding his mediation efforts.
Furthermore, Germany wants in the longer term to strengthen the EU’s role in scrutinising the escalation and avoiding renewed spirals of violence in the future. The EU can help in two ways here: firstly, by ensuring better provision of humanitarian assistance to the civilian population in Gaza and, secondly, by using its relationships with Israel and with the Palestinians to promote confidence-building measures designed to calm the situation.
Germany’s efforts towards de-escalation
The German Government is extremely concerned by the continuing violence and steadily increasing number of deaths on both sides. Foreign Minister Maas emphasised that Israel was exercising its right of self-defence in response to the ongoing attacks:
We condemn these rocket attacks by Hamas in the strongest possible terms, and it goes without saying that Israel has the right to defend itself against them. With its massive rocket attacks, Hamas has deliberately escalated a situation that was already extremely tense, with terrible consequences for Israelis and for its own civilian population in Gaza. Over the past few days we have all worked intensively to end the violence. The weapons must fall silent at last.
Germany is using all available diplomatic channels to work towards easing the situation. As well as today’s video conference of EU Foreign Ministers and diplomatic efforts with its EU partners, these include Foreign Minister Maas’ phone calls to his counterparts in Israel and other states in the region, for example Jordan and Egypt.