De Croo and Sanchez visit to conflict zone marred by diplomatic incident with Tel Aviv
The visit of Belgian PM Alexander De Croo and his Spanish counterpart Pedro Sanchez to the Middle East was marred by a diplomatic incident with Tel Aviv.
De Croo and Sanchez left on Wednesday evening for a joint visit to the Middle East. Although there is no unanimous European position on the conflict between Israel and Hamas, Spain and Belgium, along with five other EU countries, condemn Hamas and hold Israel responsible for the many civilian deaths in Gaza.
The pair explained this to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, who began the meeting in the Israeli parliament by showing horrific footage of the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October, after which he wanted to hear "the comments".
"We know that you will not rest until all the innocent hostages are freed"
The images "show the barbarity of the terrorist organisation Hamas", said De Croo, who condemned the violence. "We know that you will not rest until all the innocent hostages are freed, and we support you in this," he told Netanyahu.
However, De Croo also took the opportunity to raise the issue of the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, where "a third of the houses have been damaged or destroyed, 1.4 million people have been displaced within the territory, and thousands of innocent people have been killed".
"We must wipe out Hamas or you will be next"
Netanyahu insisted that the army had tried everything to get civilians out of northern Gaza but that Hamas had kept them there and used them as human shields. "I don't know what the world would be like if there had been demonstrations in the West [during the Second World War] against the Allies because of civilian casualties. We must wipe out Hamas, or you will be next," he said.
De Croo and Sanchez's visit coincided with a temporary ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, which saw the release of hostages in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. A total of 24 hostages - 13 Israelis, 10 Thais and one Filipino - were handed over by Hamas to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza on Friday. Israel released 39 women and children.
Unexpectedly, the release took place at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, where the Spanish and Belgian prime ministers had just held a press conference. The two urged a continuous exchange of aid and hostages so that the ceasefire of one or more days could become a permanent truce.
Although De Croo reiterated his condemnation of Hamas terror and called for the immediate release of all Israeli hostages, Israeli Foreign minister Eli Cohen said on X, formerly Twitter, that he condemned the "false claims of the Prime Ministers of Spain and Belgium which support terrorism".
Netanyahu also condemned the remarks of the prime ministers, "who did not hold Hamas fully accountable for the crimes against humanity it has committed: the mass murder of Israeli civilians and the use of Palestinians as human shields," he said on X.
De Croo said he stood by his statements. "We have strongly condemned the actions of Hamas and said that Israel has the right to pursue terrorists," he said.
A total of 97 Belgians and their relatives were removed from Gaza after the Belgian visit. De Croo thanked Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sissi for his mediation. In total, at least 158 Belgians and their families have been able to leave. However, 144 people are still there. Red Cross and Belgian consular teams in Rafah will try to bring them to safety.
© AP PHOTO/MOHAMMMED ASAD © BELGA VIDEO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK