Where do European leaders stand on Israel-Hamas conflict?
Alec Fenn
European leaders have offered a mixed response to Israel's continued bombing of Gaza as civilian deaths rise along with the risk of wider tensions with other Middle Eastern countries. /Christophe Ena/AFP
European leaders have offered a mixed response to Israel's continued bombing of Gaza as civilian deaths rise along with the risk of wider tensions with other Middle Eastern countries. /Christophe Ena/AFP

European leaders have offered a mixed response to Israel's continued bombing of Gaza as civilian deaths rise along with the risk of wider tensions with other Middle Eastern countries. /Christophe Ena/AFP

More than two weeks have passed since Hamas's shock attack on Israeli civilians on October 7. Since then, Israel has sought revenge with a relentless bombing campaign and blockade of the Gaza strip that has resulted in mass civilian casualties and divided opinion among Western leaders.

U.S. President Joe Biden has led Western support of Israel, repeating his belief that Israel has the right to defend its territory while emphasizing the need for more humanitarian aid to be delivered to stricken civilians as fuel, water, food and medical supplies run out.

But European leaders have been divided in their response and face a delicate balancing act as they seek to support a democratic ally in Israel and prevent other terrorist organizations from becoming embroiled in the conflict, while urging restraint to reduce the risk of more civilian deaths and anger across the Middle East.

There is fear that failure to juggle those opposing goals could result in violation of international law and a nightmare scenario in which violence spreads across the region and other countries enter the conflict. Here, we've rounded up the latest views from European leaders... 


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EXPLAINER: What happens when the fuel runs out in Gaza?


Macron against 'massive' Israeli ground offensive

Israel's bombing campaign is expected to be followed by a ground offensive aimed at wiping out Hamas once and for all. But a planned incursion into Palestinian territory appears to have been delayed as Israel's allies sound out Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu on the potential pitfalls of an invasion.

Earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron outlined his views. "France recognizes Israel's right to defend itself and to protect its people, but it recognises it within a framework of respect for civilian populations.


"Intervention on the ground, if it is to target terrorist groups, in a totally identified way, is a choice that belongs to it and corresponds to the definition that I have mentioned. If it's a massive intervention that puts the lives of civilian populations at risk, then I think it's a mistake." 

Macron is also concerned that increasing numbers of civilian deaths could damage Israel's international reputation. He added: "It's not likely to protect Israel in the long term because it's not compatible with respect for civilian populations, international and humanitarian law, and even the rules of war."


Putin fears wider Middle Eastern conflict 

For Russian President Vladimir Putin, Israel's conflict with Hamas has proven to be a timely diversion, with political and media eyeballs moving away – at least temporarily – from his country's own conflict with Ukraine.

But that hasn't stopped Putin from voicing his concerns. In a Kremlin address to religious leaders of different faiths on Wednesday, he warned that Israel's continued offensive could result in the conflict spilling over into other Middle Eastern countries. 


He said: "The fight against terrorism cannot be carried out according to the notorious principle of collective responsibility. When elderly people, women, children, entire families also die, where hundreds of thousands of people are left without shelter, food, water, electricity and medical care – this is a real humanitarian catastrophe.

"Our main task is to stop the bloodshed and violence. Otherwise, further expansion of the crisis is fraught with the most severe and dangerously destructive consequences, and not only for the regions of the Middle East. This could spill far beyond the borders of the Middle East."


Erdogan accuses West of anti-Muslim stance

Türkiye could have a key role to play as a mediator in the conflict. Türkiye is one of only a few countries to have an ongoing relationship with Hamas and the country's Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said on October 18 that he was discussing the release of Israeli hostages with Gaza's governing power.

Turkish President Tayipp Erdogan has also been the most vocal European leader in his condemnation of Israel's attack on Gaza and the lack of urgency from other Western leaders in securing a humanitarian corridor for vital supplies to reach Palestinian people.


On Thursday, Erdogan accused leaders of hypocrisy: "All the Western countries are giving unconditional support to the attacks rather than calling Israel to return to common sense, as if they have agreed to say the same thing. Those who pontificate about human rights and freedoms on paper have been disregarding the right to life of the oppressed Gazans for exactly 19 days. 

"What happened to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Don't you ever look at this declaration? Don't you look at what is written there? No. They'll look at it if it serves their purpose. They won't look at it if it doesn't serve their purpose. Why? Because the blood being spilled is Muslim blood."


Olaf Scholz: Germany behind Israel

Pro-Palestinian protests have broken out in a number of German cities in recent weeks, but that hasn't changed Chancellor Olaf Scholz's unwavering support of Israel and its Jewish population. 

Scholz has moved to ban all pro-Palestinian protests in the knowledge that the country is also home to a large Muslim population. His stance can also partly be explained by its strict stance on antisemitism since the Holocaust during World War II and the risk of antisemitic slogans appearing in German cities.


On Thursday, he said: "Now it is also about us making it clear together that we support Israel in the defense of its own territory against the awful attack by Hamas. This was an awful, brutal attack which went against all principles of humanity, on children, on families, on young and old people. 

"Therefore it is important that we maintain a common position. I am convinced that will be the case, as will how we will work for the all hostages to be freed, for humanitarian support for the citizens of Gaza, who are also victims of Hamas who have taken power there with a coup d'etat and who use their own population for their own purposes, therefore it is important that we advance this humanitarian help."


Sunak backs humanitarian pause – but not ceasefire

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was one of the first European leaders to visit Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv since October 7. During his visit, which was aimed at showing solidarity with Israelis, he said he wanted Israel to "win" its conflict with Hamas.

But protests from pro-Palestinian groups in London and criticism of his support for Israel in light of mass civilian deaths have seen Sunak adopt a more balanced stance over the past week. This week he backed calls for a humanitarian pause in the conflict but not a ceasefire.

"We recognize for all of that to happen (humanitarian support for people living in Gaza), there has to be a safer environment, which of course necessitates specific pauses – as distinct from a ceasefire," he said in response to a question from Labour leader Keir Starmer during Prime Minister's Questions. 

A spokesman for Sunak added that a full ceasefire would only benefit Hamas, adding that Sunak disagreed with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres over comments that attacks by Hamas earlier this month "did not happen in a vacuum."

Where do European leaders stand on Israel-Hamas conflict?

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