Ireland, Spain want EU to review Israel’s human rights compliance

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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

The two leaders, who have together with Belgium been Europe’s most outspoken about Israeli operations in Gaza since the five-month conflict began, said attacking Rafah posed “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 to urgently needed humanitarian supplies, “the prime ministers said in a joint letter published on the Spanish government website.

At least 1 200 Israelis were killed and around 250 were taken hostage in a raid by Hamas militants on southern Israel on October 7, prompting Israel to retaliate. At least 28 576 Palestinians have since been killed in Israeli strikes, the health ministry in Gaza said on Wednesday.

A Spanish government source said it was confident that European countries are unifying around a firmer position and that the European Commission should 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, who at present holds the presidency of the EU Council, saying it could generate an “unmitigated humanitarian catastrophe.”

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.

While only Spain and Ireland signed the letter, the source said it expected further backing for a review of the agreement 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 of Israel over allegations it was committing genocide.

The EU Commission confirmed receipt of the letter.

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

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.