Ireland, Spain demand EU review of Israel’s human rights conduct in Gaza

The request comes as international pressure mounts for Israel to hold off on a fully fledged assault on the southern city of Rafah.

Thousands of displaced Palestinians have started to leave Rafah and head towards central Gaza in fear of another Israeli military operation [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

The prime ministers of Spain and Ireland have asked the European Commission to urgently review whether Israel is complying with its human rights obligations in Gaza as international pressure grows for Israel to hold off on an assault of the densely packed southern border city of Rafah.

The two leaders said on Wednesday that attacking Rafah poses “a grave and imminent threat that the international community must urgently confront”.

“We also recall the horror of October 7, and call for the release of all hostages and an immediate ceasefire that can facilitate access for urgently needed humanitarian supplies,” the prime ministers said in a joint letter published on the Spanish government’s website.

At least 1,139 Israelis were killed and about 240 people were taken captive in a raid by Hamas fighters on southern Israel on October 7, prompting Israel to unleash its most brutal offensive yet on the besieged territory.

At least 28,576 Palestinians have since been killed in Israeli attacks, the Ministry of Health in Gaza said on Wednesday, mostly women and children.

Spain and Ireland have been particularly outspoken on the topic of Israel’s assault on Gaza in comparison with other European Union states.

But a Spanish government source told the Reuters news agency that it was confident that European countries are unifying around a firmer position and for the European Commission to take more concrete action over Israel’s actions in Gaza.

The source pointed to a tweet on Tuesday by Alexander De Croo, the prime minister of Belgium, which said any Rafah operation could generate an “unmitigated humanitarian catastrophe”. Belgium at present holds the presidency of the European Council.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also said before talks scheduled with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that an offensive on Rafah would jeopardise the humanitarian situation there.

‘There must be accountability’

While only Spain and Ireland signed the letter, the source said it expected further backing for a review when ministers meet for the Council of Europe in March.

Their intervention follows South Africa’s referral of Israel to the International Court of Justice over allegations it is committing genocide.

The European Commission confirmed receipt of the letter and said it would “look into it”, spokeswoman Arianna Podesta told reporters.

“We do urge all sides when it comes to Israel to respect international law, and we note that there must be respect, there must be accountability for violations of international law,” the spokesperson said.

Two weeks ago, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he was in talks with other EU heads of government to review the EU-Israel Association Agreement on the basis that Israel may be breaching the agreement’s human rights clause.

The 23-year-old agreement sets out a framework for free trade in goods, services and capital based on “respect for human rights and democratic principles”.

Varadkar said several EU states were also talking about a possible joint recognition of a Palestinian state.

More than 1.4 million displaced Palestinians are currently trapped in Rafah as Israeli troops prepare for a full-scale ground operation that has triggered international alarm over the potential for mass casualties. Most of those in Rafah fled there after the Israeli army designated it a “safe zone”.

With an influx of desperate people and a lack of clean water, food, medicine and other basic supplies, disease is also flourishing.

Israeli tanks have already shelled parts of Rafah over the past few days, causing waves of panic. Dozens of Palestinians were killed in overnight attacks on Monday, and on Tuesday, two journalists, including an Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent, were seriously wounded.

Thousands have started to flee the area to Deir el-Balah in central Gaza as much of the enclave has been turned into ruins.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies