Metsola and Von der Leyen in Israel as IDF issues 24-hour ultimatum for Gaza evacuation

European leaders in Israel visit to meet leadership, but EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borell is not among representatives

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Parliament Roberta Metsola in Israel
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Parliament Roberta Metsola in Israel

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Parliament President Roberta Metsola are in Israel, in what has officially been described as a visit “to express solidarity with the victims of the Hamas terrorist attacks, and meet with Israeli leadership.”

The visit is conspicuous by the absence of the EU’s external representative, Josep Borrell, who this week said Israel’s siege of Gaza was illegal and insisted that European aid to Palestine must keep flowing.

The initial reactions to a deadly and surprise attack by the Hamas militia, which breached the Israeli defence border on Gaza and attacked unsuspecting victims at a music festival in south Israel, have revealed divisions across the EU.

Earlier in the week, Hungarian commissioner Olivér Várhelyi gave the impression that Europe would follow with collective punishment for Palestinians, by warning that all EU aid to Palestine would be frozen. The EU is the most generous donor to Palestine, and UNRWA needs international contributions to continue its life-saving service provision in Gaza and throughout the region.

Gazans assist a victim of the aerial bombings raining on the tiny enclave by the Israeli Defence Forces
Gazans assist a victim of the aerial bombings raining on the tiny enclave by the Israeli Defence Forces

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel condemned the terror attacks by Hamas. “They do not offer solutions. They offer bloodshed. This is not the time for ‘whataboutism’. This is terror in its worst form,” Metsola said during a solemn gathering in Brussels in solidarity with Israel. “October 7 is a day that will go down in global infamy; the world has witnessed Jews being murdered simply because they were Jewish,” Metsola said, condemning the act of terrorism and demanding the immediate release of hostages held by Hamas.

But speaking in Oman, Josep Borrel said Israel’s right to self defence had to be done “within international law... cutting water, cutting electricity, cutting food to a mass of civilian people is against international law... The Palestinian people are also suffering.”

24-hour ultimatum

The Israeli military has now told the UN that everyone living north of Wadi Gaza should relocate to southern Gaza in the next 24 hours – in what many believe is a plan to evacuate Gaza entirely.

The United Nation said this amounts to approximately 1.1 million people – about half the population of the entire Gaza Strip. The affected area includes densely populated Gaza City.

The alert was given just before midnight (CET) Gaza and Jerusalem time.

“The United Nations considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences,” the UN said in a statement, calling the evacuation to be rescinded and avoiding what could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation".

Israel has been preparing for a ground offensive, gathering soldiers, heavy artillery and tanks on the border of Gaza. It has been launching airstrikes on Gaza since Saturday after Hamas militants’ surprise attack on Israel.

The UN Security Council is due to hold an emergency meeting on Friday afternoon in a closed consultation format. The US, UK, China, Russia, and France are permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Israel said the international body’s statement on its evacuation was “shameful”.

Gilad Erdan, the country’s ambassador to the UN, said Israel was giving an early warning to the residents of Gaza and was trying to “minimise harm to those not involved” in its military operation against Hamas.

“For many years, the UN has turned a blind eye to the arming of Hamas and its use of the civilian population and civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip as a hiding place for its weapons and murder,” he said.

“Now, instead of standing by Israel, whose citizens were slaughtered by Hamas terrorists... it preaches to Israel,” Erdan said.