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EU and Britain clash over ceasefire between Israel and Hamas

Palestinian fighters at a funeral as fighting continues
Palestinian fighters at a funeral as fighting continues - AFP/ZAIN JAAFAR

France and EU leaders have backed a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, setting up a clash with Britain and the US as ground troops ready themselves to invade Gaza.

Elisabeth Borne, the French prime minister, called for a “humanitarian truce” for more aid to enter Gaza in a move that mirrored Western divides over Ukraine.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s top foreign diplomat, argued that a halt to Israeli bombing would allow for more time to negotiate the release of hundreds of hostages held captive by Hamas.

A number of EU leaders are also set to back a “pause” in fighting in a confidential draft statement seen by The Telegraph.

It came as Rishi Sunak told the House of Commons it would be “difficult” to push for a ceasefire as he argued for Israel’s right to defend itself.

“It is difficult to tell Israel to have a ceasefire when it is still facing rocket fire on an almost daily basis, and when its citizens are still being held hostage and it has suffered an appalling terrorist attack where it has a right to defend itself,” the Prime Minister told MPs.

Joe Biden has given his confirmed support to Israel, and the US confirmed on Monday evening that it was sending more weapons and additional troops to the region.

He dismissed calls for a ceasefire, telling reporters: “We should have those hostages released and then we can talk.”

Mr Sunak also warned on Monday that the “misreporting” of an explosion at a Gaza hospital last week had had a “negative” impact on US diplomatic efforts to dial down tensions in the wider Middle East.

He said British intelligence believed the rocket came from Gaza, following similar conclusions by US spies and independent analysis.

On Monday night, Hamas said it had released two elderly Israeli hostages for “humanitarian” reasons, in a concession that is likely to increase calls for a delay in invading Gaza.

Yocheved Lifschitz, 85, is the mother of British academic Sharone Lifschitz, who told The Telegraph on Monday night that she was heading to the airport to meet her mother. Yocheved Lifschitz, along with Nurit Cooper, 79, was handed over to the Red Cross at the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

Meanwhile, Washington was said to be working with Qatar on a deal to release as many as 50 of the 222 hostages held by Hamas, according to a report by The New York Times.

Benjamin Netanyahu is delaying a full invasion because of concerns with securing the northern border with Lebanon, Israeli media reported on Monday. He is said to have clashed with Israel Defense Forces chiefs who are eager to start the incursion into Gaza.

The international community is increasingly split over launching a full-scale war.

There is mounting concern in Europe over the humanitarian conditions inside Gaza after 17 days of bombardment by Israel in retaliation for Hamas’s Oct 7 massacre of 1,400 people.

The reprisal strikes have killed more than 5,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the enclave’s Hamas-controlled health ministry.

Although two aid convoys were allowed to enter the terrorist-controlled territory through Egypt over the weekend, the United Nations has called for a ceasefire to allow for more humanitarian assistance.

Ms Borne joined the UN calls for a ceasefire to allow more aid to pass through the Rafah crossing, Gaza’s only non-Israeli frontier. “The opening at the Rafah crossing point is still very limited. We call for the Rafah door to be opened to allow new passages,” she told the French Assembly.

“The distribution of aid requires a humanitarian truce that can lead to a ceasefire,” she added.

Palestinians flee following an Israeli air strike in Gaza
Palestinians flee following an Israeli air strike in Gaza - Shutterstock

Emmanuel Macron is scheduled to visit Israel on Tuesday, and is also expected to visit Cairo in a bid to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas.

One French citizen is known to be among the 222 people abducted and six other French nationals have been missing since the terror group’s surprise attack.

The French leader held talks with Ebrahim Raisi, the Iranian president, last week, and called for Tehran not to escalate the conflict given its close ties with Hamas.

Mr Macron attempted to secure a similar diplomatic end to the war in Ukraine when he held talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin shortly after his invasion.

After his Russian talks, the French president was widely accused of having played into Moscow’s efforts to freeze the conflict.

With concerns growing over a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, EU leaders are set to back calls for a halt to the war at a European Council summit on Thursday.

A confidential draft of their statement says they will back a “humanitarian pause” between Israel and Hamas.

“The European Council supports the call of [UN secretary-general] Guterres for a humanitarian pause in order to allow for safe humanitarian access and aid to reach those in need,” the text, seen by The Telegraph, says.

An Israeli soldier stands in an armoured vehicle. The army has yet to be given the order for a full ground invasion
An Israeli soldier stands in an armoured vehicle. The army has yet to be given the order for a full ground invasion - JALAA MAREY/AFP

The draft text also called for the “immediate release of all hostages without any precondition” and insists the Palestinian Authority should be involved in peace talks.

On Monday the motion was supported by Spain, Ireland, Slovenia, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, at a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

Mr Borrell said: “I think a humanitarian pause is needed in order to allow humanitarian support to come in and be distributed.”

Micheál Martin, Ireland’s foreign minister, said: “The suffering of innocent civilians, particularly children, is on a scale that requires an immediate cessation in our view.”

However, the planned statement has triggered a row as Israel’s most ardent European allies have refused to publicly back a ceasefire.

“We cannot contain the humanitarian catastrophe if Gaza’s terrorism continues. There will be no security and no peace for either Israel or the Palestinians if this terrorism continues,” Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister, said.

Her Austrian counterpart, Alexander Schallenberg, said: “Of course everyone would wish that the violence comes to an end. But Israel has the right to self-defence.”

Jan Lipavsky, the Czech foreign minister, questioned how a ceasefire would be enforced when “the Hamas terrorist organisation now is controlling the situation” in Gaza.

Mr Sunak also put himself at odds with European calls for a truce between Israel and the terrorist group, suggesting a push for a ceasefire would be “difficult”.

“But as I have said it is important that that is done in accordance with international law and it’s important that Israel takes every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians,” he added.

The US last week vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a “humanitarian pause” to open up aid corridors into Gaza.

On Monday, Mr Biden’s top national security official said that the United States would send more forces to the Middle East in the “days and weeks ahead”.

Jake Sullivan, the White House’s national security adviser, said Mr Biden had “added additional military forces to the region and more forces will be coming in days and weeks ahead, to try to deter any actor from widening or deepening this conflict”.

He said the US was conducting an “hour by hour” operation to secure the release of as many Hamas hostages as possible.

In an earlier briefing, he told reporters that “security assistance” was reaching Israel “almost on a near-daily basis”.

“Every day is a little bit different, obviously, based on the needs of the Israelis,” he said.

“We’re being careful not to quantify or get into too much detail about what they’re getting – for their own operational security purposes, of course.  But that security assistance continues to flow.”

Alphabet Inc’s Google is disabling live traffic conditions in Israel and the Gaza Strip for its Maps and Waze apps at the request of the Israeli military, ahead of a potential ground invasion into Gaza.