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European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR)
News article18 October 2023Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations

Opening statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel on the occasion of the extraordinary meeting of the European Council of 17 October 2023

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First, I would like to express my deep sorrow following the recent terror attacks that took place in France and in Belgium. I offer my heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims in Sweden.

We met today at this European Council VTC because of another heinous terror attack perpetrated by Hamas on Israel. 1,400 Israelis and other nationals massacred in one single day. Hamas taking close to 200 hostages. We call for their immediate release. In Israel, I spoke to families. For example, a family whose 82-year-old grandmother had been abducted by Hamas; a mother that was desperately looking for her 22-year-old daughter, abducted by Hamas at the festival in Israel. In the face of this, it is clear to everyone that Israel has the right to defend itself in line with international and humanitarian law.

But that is not all. Hamas' terror is also bringing immense suffering to the Palestinian people. Let me be very clear: I was on Friday in Israel in the kibbutz Kfar Azza. This was the first place I went to. I saw the blood, I saw the burnt-down houses. I saw children's toys with which no child would ever play anymore. There, in the presence of the Speaker of the Knesset, I said very clearly that it is Hamas who are the terrorists, not the Palestinian people. So, we have to care for the Palestinian people and their humanitarian needs. There is no contradiction in standing in solidarity with Israel and acting for the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians.

On Saturday, I spoke to António Guterres. I informed him that the Commission is tripling the humanitarian aid for Palestinians for this year. We are also establishing an air bridge to Egypt, close to Gaza, in order to be in a position to quickly deliver aid across the border. We are in contact with the Egyptian authorities to enable our aid to enter Gaza from Egypt. And Commission staff is in Egypt to prepare for the delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza. We are also explaining to the Israeli authorities that providing water to Gaza is essential. This is a basic human right.

On the broader issue of financial support and development aid for Palestine: I am not aware of any EU funding going to any terrorist organisation. And it has to stay like this. And this is why we are conducting an internal review and will coordinate with Member States carrying out their own reviews.

On the wider regional context: I have been recently talking to several Arab leaders. All were very clear about the importance of our EU funding and that these events have the potential to draw the entire region into conflict. This would put in doubt the positive impact of our entire neighbourhood funding. Just as an example: About 10% of the entire budget of the Palestinian Authority's funding comes from the European Union. Or take Egypt. Egypt is already hosting substantial numbers of refugees. We must work and support Egypt in this current crisis and establish a comprehensive partnership.

Allow me to conclude on a last crucial thought: Some believe that they can distract us from supporting Ukraine and that we have to choose whom to support. We will prove them wrong. We stand by our friends in their time of need, for as long as it takes. It is important that our proposal for the MFF is being processed now. And lots of support for Ukraine is in the making because we know that they are fighting for our values, and we stand by them, for as long as it takes.

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