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NEW YORK CITY: The EU’s foreign affairs chief on Tuesday condemned the lack of aid entering Gaza as “man-made” disaster in which starvation is being used as a weapon of war.
“When we condemn this happening in Ukraine, we have to use the same words for what’s happening in Gaza,” Josep Borrell told the UN Security Council
“This humanitarian crisis (is) not a natural disaster, is not a flood, is not an earthquake, it is man-made.”
More than 31,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed during the war in Gaza, and more than 100,000 injured. Many more bodies are believed to be buried under the rubble of buildings destroyed by the Israeli military onslaught.
“The situation in Gaza is unbearable,” said Borrell. “The very survival of the Palestinian population is at stake. It is a wide-scale destruction. Everything that makes society has been destroyed, systematically.”
As Israeli authorities continue to severely control and restrict deliveries of humanitarian aid that are allowed to enter Gaza, the territory is in the grip of a catastrophic-level food crisis. Senior UN officials have warned of the imminent threat of famine if urgent action is not taken to avert a humanitarian disaster. More than 25 Palestinians have already died of starvation, most of them children.
Given the difficulties of delivering aid by road, some foreign governments have resorted to airdrops in an attempt to ensure life-saving humanitarian supplies reach people in Gaza. A mechanism for the delivery of aid by sea is also being set up.
“I don’t want to teach any one of you about what is happening in Gaza,” Borrell told council members. “When we look for alternative ways of providing support, by sea or by air, we have to remember that we have to do it because the natural way of providing support, through roads, is being closed, artificially closed, and starvation is being used as a war arm.”
Asked by Arab News to comment on whether some EU member states are enabling the war in Gaza, including Germany, which has increased approvals of arms exports to Israel almost tenfold since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas, Borrell said: “I am representing the European Union as a whole. And sometime (this) is difficult because there are different sensitivities and different positions.
“And there are some members on stage who are completely reluctant to take any position that could represent the slightest criticism toward Israel, and others are very much pushing in order to get a ceasefire.”
In light of the escalating humanitarian crisis during the war in Gaza, EU members Ireland and Spain have asked the European Commission to “undertake an urgent review” of the cooperation agreement between the EU and Israel, which regulates trade relations and is bound by the condition that human rights are respected.
Borrell told Arab News “an orientation debate on this important issue” will take place on Monday during a meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council.
Borrell was at the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday to take part in a Security Council meeting on cooperation between the UN and the EU.
“We live in a very, very, very complex, difficult and challenging world,” he told reporters. “But without the United Nations, the world will be still more challenging, more dangerous.
“The world is becoming darker and darker. The UN is a light in the darkness, (a) landmark in the middle of the turmoil, (a) lantern in the thick fog through which we search our way, every day, trying to look for a solution. It is a ray of light, a sign of hope.”
He expressed “strong support” for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in light of “the unjustified attacks that he has been suffering.”
In the latest example of such attacks by the Israeli government, Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Monday sent Guterres a letter accusing him of turning the UN into an “epicenter of antisemitism and anti-Israel incitement.”
Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the secretary-general, told Arab News: “We will not be responding to this letter, which in my mind is not a reflection of reality and is not a reflection of who Antonio Guterres is or everything he’s done as secretary-general on this issue.”
Borrell described UN agencies, such as the Relief and Works Agency, the main mechanism for providing assistance to Palestinians, as the “last lifelines” for many people.
“Yes, UNRWA is facing allegations but allegations have to be proved. That is why they are allegations,” he said.
Israeli authorities have alleged that several UNRWA workers participated in the Oct. 7 attacks. Borrell said the EU is awaiting the findings of an investigation into the allegations.
“But let me remind (you of) something: UNRWA exists because there are Palestinian refugees,” he said. “It is not a present to the Palestinians, it is an answer to their needs.”
Nobody can make the refugees disappear by making UNRWA disappear, he said. A two-state solution is the only way the UNRWA will disappear, he added, by making those refugees citizens of a Palestinian state that coexists with Israel.