Israel summons Spain and Belgium envoys over calls for a ceasefire from Cairo

Leaders called for a permanent peace and a two-state solution as Egyptian President repeats opposition to relocation of Palestinians to his country

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, centre, with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, left, and Belgium Prime Minister Alexander De Croo meet in Cairo to discuss the Israel-Gaza war. AFP
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The Israeli government has summoned Spain and Belgium's ambassadors following a visit by both countries’ Prime Ministers to Cairo, where they called for a ceasefire in Gaza, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The countries’ ambassadors have been invited to “a harsh rebuke conversation” over their leaders' comments, which Mr Cohen said were “giving support to terrorism”.

Mr Cohen rejected their comments and insisted that Israel’s siege on Gaza was within the bounds of international law because it is “fighting a murderous terrorist organisation worse than ISIS”.

The controversy came after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo visited Egypt and called for the extension of the temporary truce between Israel and Hamas to become a permanent ceasefire.

“Today we have a temporary ceasefire and it can become a permanent one day by day. If we release more hostages, then we can extend the ceasefire,” said Mr De Croo.

The two leaders met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi in Cairo for a joint press conference before they visited the Rafah border crossing, where 24 hostages were freed from Gaza on Friday.

They called for the extension of the truce and the delivery of more aid to Gaza.

“Humanitarian aid must be delivered in a steady manner. The truce must continue and we have called on both sides to negotiate and exchange points of view,” said Mr Sanchez.

Four tonnes of medical aid sent by the EU will be received by Egyptian hospitals treating wounded Gazans, said Mr Sanchez.

“The horrible crimes that have been committed by Hamas on October 7 is an attest to their lack of humanity, but at the same time we mustn’t forget the murder of civilians in Gaza,” said Mr Sanchez.

“There are 2.3 million people suffering under the war in Gaza. We have to end this humanitarian catastrophe.”

Egypt opposed to hosting Gazans

Mr El Sisi highlighted the plight of civilians in Gaza, where almost 15,000 people have been killed since October 7, in the joint press conference with the European leaders.

“We must not forget that 60 per cent of the 15,000 who have been killed are women and children,” said the Egyptian leader.

“We are calling on the governments of Belgium and Spain to stress the importance of the international community providing enough provisions for civilians inside the enclave.”

Mr El Sisi called for the release of hostages being held by Hamas, a move which he said would contribute to achieving a permanent ceasefire.

He stressed the importance of establishing safe zones inside the enclave for Gazans whose homes have been destroyed by Israeli strikes and repeated his opposition to Egypt being forced to host displaced Palestinians.

The Egyptian President estimated that “40,000 to 50,000 homes have been completely destroyed inside Gaza and 70,000 to 100,000 have sustained heavy damage”.

“The destruction will make the enclave unlivable, and we view this as a bid to displace Palestinians outside the enclave,” said the Egyptian leader.

“I spoke with US President Joe Biden recently and stressed that Egypt categorically rejects the forced displacement of Palestinians outside the enclave.”

There are an estimated nine million migrants living in Egypt, according to the UN.

While many come from countries affected by war – including Sudan, Syria and Yemen – Mr El Sisi said hosting refugees from Gaza would be different, as they would not have a home to return to once the current war is over.

“The people we are hosting will be able to return to their countries once the conflicts there are over,” he said.

“No one is waiting to steal their lands from them, which is not the case for Gaza.”

Two-state solution

All three statesmen reiterated their support for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which they said was needed more than ever since the current Gaza war began.

“We have to move towards the two-state solution to achieve peace. Any solution must be a final one to end the Arab-Israeli conflict which has been ongoing for nearly a century now,” said Mr De Croo.

“We will continue to appeal to Israel to respect international law.”

Mr El Sisi said a fundamental change to the political methods being used to achieve Palestinian statehood was now vital, pointing to 30 years of failure in the current approach.

“We have said that a Palestinian state could be stripped of arms. There have also been assurances that forces from Nato or from the UN could be stationed there. Arab forces, US forces, whatever you want,” he said.

“But we must establish both a Palestinian state alongside Israel.”

Mr Sanchez and Mr De Croo visited the Rafah border crossing later on Friday where they called for a permanent ceasefire and for a more peaceful approach to resolving the ongoing war.

Earlier on Friday, 200 lorries – the largest daily aid delivery since the opening of humanitarian corridors on October 21 – entered Gaza.

“The solution to this conflict is never going to be violence, the solution is that people sit around the table. Everyone on both sides has a huge responsibility for that,” Mr DeCroo said from the Rafah crossing.

Mr Sanchez said he had stressed to his Israeli counterpart during his visit to Jerusalem on Thursday the importance of moving forward with the two-state solution which is the only way to peace.

“The moment has come for the European Union and its member states to recognise a Palestinian state. All the member states should do it together but that is not the case,” he said.

“Spain will take its own decisions on the matter.”

Updated: November 25, 2023, 7:38 AM