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EU prepares call for pause in Israel-Hamas war but some countries not convinced

FILE PHOTO: EU leaders meet in Granada

By Andrew Gray

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union edged on Monday towards endorsing a "humanitarian pause" in the war between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas but some member governments signalled reservations about the idea.

Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief, said he backed a call by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a break in the conflict to allow much more humanitarian aid to reach Palestinian civilians in the besieged Gaza Strip.

EU officials also drafted a statement in support of the proposal for an EU summit this Thursday and Friday.

After a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, Borrell said there was "basic consensus" on a pause. But diplomats from three EU countries, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that was not their impression of the meeting.

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The divergence raised the prospect of diplomatic wrangling in the coming days to agree a text acceptable to all the bloc's 27 national leaders, to be signed off at the summit.

Diplomats said there was consensus on the need to ramp up humanitarian aid, reflecting widespread alarm about the fate of Palestinian civilians after two weeks of Israel bombarding and blockading Gaza in response to the Oct. 7 Hamas assault that killed 1,400 people and took more than 200 hostage.

More than 5,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes, according to the enclave's health ministry, and about 1.4 million of Gaza's 2.3 million population are now internally displaced, according to the United Nations.

But EU countries had yet to agree on the best way to increase the flow of aid and some were concerned a pause could curb Israel's right to defend itself, diplomats said.

Among the EU's political heavyweights, France has backed a pause while Germany has so far not done so.

Two aid convoys - one of 20 trucks, the other of 14 - entered Gaza over the weekend from Egypt at the Rafah crossing, according to officials. But Borrell said 100 such trucks would normally go into Gaza even before the war.

"Now the most important thing is for humanitarian support to go into Gaza," Borrell told reporters in Luxembourg.

Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, Slovenia and Luxembourg have also publicly backed the idea of a humanitarian pause.

"There's a vital need to get water, to get food, to get medical supplies into Gaza," said Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin. "The degree of human suffering is immense. We have to distinguish between the civilians of Gaza and Hamas."

But some ministers, such as Austria's Alexander Schallenberg and Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipa, questioned the viability of the proposal, while others avoided taking a public stance.

The divergence in views broadly reflected longstanding differences within the EU over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with those seen as more sympathetic to Palestinians pushing for a pause while staunch allies of Israel were more reluctant.

Asked why Germany had not backed calls for a humanitarian ceasefire, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said recent days had shown the importance of getting aid into Gaza but had also made clear that Hamas was continuing to attack Israel.

"We’ve all seen that the terrorism continues non-stop, that massive rocket attacks against Israel are taking place," she said. "We can't end the humanitarian catastrophe when the terrorism from Gaza continues."

(Reporting by Andrew Gray, Bart Meijer and Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Alison Williams and Mark Potter)