Robert Abela calls for respect of international law as Gaza conflict rages on

At a virtual meeting of EU leaders held on Tuesday evening, Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela says a distinction has to be drawn between Hamas and Palestinians • EP President Roberta Metsola says Europe’s humanitarian obligations must remain a priority

Prime Minister Robert Abela attending the virtual meeting of EU leaders
Prime Minister Robert Abela attending the virtual meeting of EU leaders

Israel has a right to defend itself but must do so within the parameters of international law, Robert Abela said at an emergency meeting of EU leaders.

The Maltese Prime Minister condemned the actions of the “terrorist group Hamas”, drawing a clear distinction between the militants and the Palestinian people in Gaza. He said the EU must continue to dialogue with Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The virtual meeting took place on Tuesday evening as the EU tries to put up a common front on the situation in the Middle East after sending mixed messages over the past week.

The meeting was coming to a close when news started filtering through of a hospital in Gaza that was hit by a bomb that killed more than 500 people.

Hamas has blamed Israel for the hospital bombing, while Israel’s defence force says the explosion was caused by a misfired rocket launched from near the hospital by Islamic Jihad, another militant group.

“Malta will continue to unequivocally condemn the actions of the terrorist group Hamas and while noting Israel’s right to defend itself according to the parameters of international law it is important that Hamas is not put in the same basket as the Palestinians of Gaza,” Abela said. He added: “Malta’s message is consistent that international law should be respected by all those involved and a just and comprehensive peace in the region can only be achieved through a two state solution.”

The Prime Minister said the EU must continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas, work to descalate tensions in the region, and insist on humanitarian aid reaching those in need.

Israel has blockaded and bombed Gaza in retaliation for Hamas attacks on 7 October. The situation in Gaza has been described as a humanitarian crisis as people have been deprived of food, electricity, water, fuel and medical supplies.

“It is crucial that organisations that provide aid have all the resources to continue their work.

Abela said the EU must also intensify its efforts to strengthen internal security in light of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

He also called for continuous monitoring of the situation to anticipate the challenges the conflict may create in terms of immigration.

Metsola addresses Council

Abela's statements were also reflected in the short address to the Council by European Parliament President Roberta Metsola. She said Hamas is a terrorist organisation that does not represent the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.

"As a Union, it is important that we express our solidarity, that we reiterate our rejection of terrorism, that we help in securing the release of nearly 200 hostages and that we underline that how Israel responds to the attack matters to all of us. We must emphasise that we need to keep looking for solutions that mitigate the humanitarian consequences in Gaza in line with our obligations and international law," Metsola said.

She said Europe’s humanitarian obligations must remain a priority in light of the situation in Gaza, adding that the bloc must keep engaging with the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people and regional actors to de-escalate tensions in the region and neighbouring areas.

"As a Union our focus would be to remain coherent and united in ensuring that hostages are released unconditionally, that terrorism is not excused, that humanitarian aid reaches those in need, that civilians are not targeted, that safe routes within Gaza are maintained and humanitarian corridors are created," she said.