Ursula von der Leyen says Europe stands with Israel, supports its right to defend itself; Germany offers aid, including military if wanted; pope calls for hostages to be freed
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday that the Palestinian terror group Hamas’s killing of 1,000 Israeli civilians in a massive assault on the country was a coldblooded act of war and reflected an “ancient evil.”
“We have to be clear in defining this kind of horror,” she said. “And there can only be one response to it. Europe stands with Israel. And we fully support Israel’s right to defend itself.”
Addressing the start of a meeting of European commissioners, von der Leyen also supported a full review of the EU’s multi-million-euro financial support for Palestinian projects.
On Saturday, 1,500 Hamas terrorists stormed Israel’s border around the Gaza enclave and murderously rampaged through southern areas, taking over communities and killing the men, women and children they found, as well as overrunning military sites, with similar deadly results. The toll from the bloody assault, which came alongside a widespread barrage of 5,000 rockets fired indiscriminately at towns and cities across Israel, swelled to more than 1,200 dead by Wednesday, the vast majority of them civilians.
Among the dead were dozens of babies. Some of the victims, including entire families who were butchered, were reportedly beheaded. At an outdoor music festival, surrounded by the attackers, 260 people were systematically mowed down. In addition, the terrorists abducted around 150 people of all ages, including children and elderly women, dragging them back to Gaza as captives.
Israel has retaliated with artillery and airstrikes, and officials from the Hamas-controlled health ministry estimated more than 900 Palestinian dead by the fifth day of ferocious fighting. Israel says it is targeting terrorist infrastructure and all areas where Hamas operates or hides out, while issuing evacuation warnings to civilians in regions it plans to attack.
The EU and its member states have responded with expressions of solidarity with Israel and furious disgust at Hamas’s assault. “It is terrorism. And it is an act of war,” von der Leyen said.
But they have also expressed concern that Israel keep its response within the limits of international law.
“Hamas terrorists killed women and children in their homes. They hunted hundreds of young men and women who were celebrating life and music,” von der Leyen told the European Commission.
“They took hostage hundreds of innocents, whose fate is still unknown,” she said.
“These innocents were killed for one single reason: For being Jewish and living in the State of Israel. It is an ancient evil, which reminds us of the darkest past and shocks all of us to the core.”
Von der Leyen also addressed a debate raging in Brussels over the European Union’s huge budget to support the Palestinian Authority and state-building projects in Palestinian territories.
The EU commissioner in charge of relations with Europe’s neighbors, Hungary’s Oliver Varhelyi, has called for aid to be suspended pending a review of whether any leaked to armed groups like Hamas.
But EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, with the backing of most member state foreign ministers, wants funding to continue while any review is carried out to avoid punishing Palestinian civilians.
“Our humanitarian support to the Palestinian people is not in question. Yet it is important that we carefully review our financial assistance for Palestine,” von der Leyen said.
“EU funding has never and will never go to Hamas or any terrorist entity. So we will now again review the entire portfolio in light of an evolving situation on the ground.”
Germany’s defense minister offered his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, support from Germany.
The German government made that offer also to the Israeli military attaché in Berlin, Boris Pistorius told reporters.
“Both have said so far that they do not need support of a military or technical nature. It is about political support,” the German defense minister said, adding that Germany’s political support for Israel was self-evident.
Pistorius also said that “as soon as we can help in a humanitarian way, the offer is there, too, but so far it has not been asked for.”
Gallant will hold video talks Thursday with his NATO counterparts about the devastating Hamas attack, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said.
“Tomorrow, we will also be briefed by the Israeli defense minister Gallant on the situation in Israel,” Stoltenberg told journalists Wednesday at a two-day meeting of ministers in Brussels.
“Allies condemned the horrific terrorist attacks on innocent civilians in Israel over the weekend, and we are looking forward to the briefing from the defense minister.”
The address from Gallant comes amid concern from Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky that the crisis in Israel could distract key backer the United States from the conflict in his country.
Zelensky visited NATO headquarters on Wednesday to urge further weapons supplies to support Kyiv’s counteroffensive and air defenses to protect against an expected winter onslaught by Russia, which invaded his country in February 2022.
US President Joe Biden ordered US ships and warplanes to move closer to Israel in a show of support on Sunday, while also sending fresh military aid.
The military alliance includes Germany and also Turkey, whose president criticized Israel’s bombardment of Gaza on Wednesday, saying the country was not conducting itself “like a state.”
“Israel should not forget that if it acts more like an organization rather than a state, it’ll finish by being treated as such,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, attacking the “shameful methods” of the Israeli army in the densely populated Gaza Strip where airstrikes have decimated some areas.
“Bombing civilian sites, killing civilians, blocking humanitarian aid and trying to present these as achievements are the acts of an organization and not a state,” he said, while denouncing the “murders of civilians on Israeli territory” and “the blind massacre of innocents in a Gaza subjected to constant bombardment.”
Erdogan usually uses the word “organization” when he refers to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies.
Erdogan’s comments came in the same speech in which he vowed to intensify strikes against Kurdish fighters in Syria and Iraq. Turkey has been bombing sites in northeast Syria since Thursday, hitting civilian and military targets and infrastructure and causing casualties, according to Kurdish authorities.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis called Wednesday for the immediate release of hostages taken, and expressed his concern over Israel’s declaration that it was placing Gaza under a “total siege.”
“It is the right of those who are attacked to defend themselves, but I am very worried about the total siege in which the Palestinians live in Gaza, where there have also been many innocent victims,” he added.
“Terrorism and extremism do not help reach a solution to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, but fuel hatred, violence, revenge and only make both sides suffer.
“The Middle East does not need war but peace, a peace built on justice, dialogue and the courage of fraternity,” the pontiff said.
Source: Times of Israel