EU foreign ministers consider reviving Rafah border mission

Bloc's top diplomat Josep Borrell says preliminary approval given during meeting in Brussels

The EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell speaks during a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels. EPA
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European foreign ministers have preliminarily approved the revival of an EU border mission at Rafah, the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

The European Union Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) Rafah has not been operational since 2007 when Hamas seized full control of Gaza.

“I have the green light from EU ministers to reactivate the Rafah border mission,” he said, adding that such a mission would need the support of Egypt, Israel and Palestinians.

“This could play a useful role in supporting the entry of people into Gaza, in and out, but this has to be done in accordance with the Palestinian Authority,” he said during a monthly meeting of EU foreign ministers that was also attended by Arab ministers.

Diplomats have said the mission was unlikely to be in place before hostilities in Rafah stopped.

Mr Borrell earlier said he was “horrified” after an Israeli missile strike in Gaza killed dozens of people, including small children.

“I condemn this in the strongest terms”, he in a post on X, adding that the attacks must end “immediately”.

Earlier, Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said he would ask his EU counterparts at a meeting in Brussels to “take the right measures” to enforce an International Court of Justice order demanding that Israel stop its military operation in Rafah.

The bloc is divided about how to address the ruling.

“I’ll ask the other 27 partners to declare their backing to the ICJ decision,” Mr Albares said at a press conference with the Foreign Ministers of Ireland and Norway, Micheal Martin and Espen Barth Eide.

He spoke a day before the three countries formally recognised a Palestinian state in a joint move.

“Also, if Israel continues to pursue against the ruling of the ICJ, that we try to take the right measures to enforce that decision and back one of the most important bodies of the UN charter,” Mr Albares said, without elaborating further.

The ICJ's decisions may be enforced by the UN Security Council, where the US has long used its veto powers to shield its ally Israel.

Mr Albares was speaking before a meeting of the EU's 27 foreign ministers that was also attended by five senior Arab officials, including the UAE's special envoy to the EU, Lana Nusseibeh, to discuss Gaza.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz did not attend the meeting despite an invitation.

Speaking to reporters as he entered the meeting, Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry warned that Israel wanted to “liquidate the Palestinian cause by making life unsustainable in Gaza”.

He called on Arab and European diplomats to “speak with one tongue to uphold the principles of humanity and stop this destructive war”.

Ignoring ICJ causes 'dilemma'

Germany, also an Israeli ally, backed Mr Albares's calls to uphold the ICJ ruling without going as far as suggesting “measures” to enforce it.

“International humanitarian law applies for all, also for Israel's conduct of the war. No Israeli hostage will be freed if more people now have to shelter in tents,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said, referring to the streams of people displaced by Israel's continued strikes.

However, some other EU countries, including France and Italy, have signalled little appetite in increasing pressure on Israel to follow the ICJ order despite renewed alarm caused by the death of more than 40 people in a Rafah refugee camp, a strike made in retaliation after Hamas fired rockets at Israel on Sunday.

Mr Josep Borrell highlighted the “dilemma” created by Israel's refusal to comply with the ICJ order.

He also pushed back against Israeli criticism of International Court of Justice chief prosecutor Karim Khan, who recently requested an arrest warrant for both Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Hamas leaders such as Yahya Sinwar.

“The word anti-Semitic is too heavy, it's too important, to use in these occasions,” said Mr Borrell.

There is a danger that should the ICJ ruling not be enforced, countries could increasingly feel that they can disregard international humanitarian law, said Norway's Mr Eide.

“The impression created is that these norms don't apply for anybody and many people say that they don't apply for anyone,” he said.

“Remember that the ICJ is everybody's court. The ICC is [composed of] 124 countries but the ICJ is the principle organ of the UN. Every member of the UN is bound by the decision of the ICJ.”

Italy's Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said he was in favour of a ceasefire and against the Rafah military operation but rejected what he described as the ICC's creation of an impression of equivalence between Hamas and Israel in its arrest warrant.

“The Israeli government is a democratic government elected by the citizens. Hamas is a terrorist organisation,” said Mr Tajani, without explicitly addressing the ICJ ruling. “For us, it's impossible to have this imposition on the Israeli government and on Hamas.”

Mr Tajani also said Israel's attack on Rafah last night was a natural response to rockets fired by Hamas earlier.

“The attack of Hamas yesterday against Israel is not good if we want to achieve peace,” he said. “It’s an instrument to strengthen the attack of Israel against Rafah. Hamas is working against the Palestinian people at this moment.”

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne echoed a similar position, saying there was “no equivalence between Hamas and the Israeli state, which is a democracy that must respect international law”.

ICC supporters say there is no intention to create an impression of equivalence between Hamas and Israeli leaders, who are suspected of different crimes.

They include extermination, murder and hostage-taking for Hamas, and starvation of civilians as a method of warfare and wilful killing for Israeli leaders.

Updated: May 27, 2024, 5:34 PM