The European Union accused Israel on Friday of a disproportionate use of force against Palestinians in Gaza and of making a humanitarian crisis there worse.
It was the first time the 25-nation bloc had made such a sharp criticism of the Jewish state in the crisis triggered by the abduction of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit from a border post by Palestinian Islamic militants on June 25.
“The EU condemns the loss of lives caused by disproportionate use of force by the Israeli Defense Forces and the humanitarian crisis it has aggravated,” Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said in a statement on a visit to St Petersburg.
It was released after 20 Palestinians were killed in the bloodiest day of fighting since 2004 on Thursday in military operations designed to stop rockets being fired into Israel.
Public concern in Europe
“The EU is extremely concerned about the situation between Israel and the Palestinians which has further deteriorated over the last days,” the statement said.
The EU called for the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldier, an end to the firing of rockets on Israeli territory and the release of Palestinian legislators and ministers detained by Israel.
The statement reflected mounting public concern in Europe, voiced in a debate in the European Parliament on Wednesday.
“All parties must refrain from actions which create further difficulties for the speedy return to negotiations on the peace process,” the EU statement said.
Negotiations collapsed in 2000 and have not resumed, although Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met briefly in Jordan last month and agreed to hold a more substantive meeting soon.