AP/ PTI

Representatives of European and Arab countries meet in Barcelona to discuss the Israel-Hamas war

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Barcelona:  Delegations from European Union member states and Middle Eastern and north African countries are meeting on Monday in Barcelona, Spain, to discuss the crisis in Gaza, where a fragile pause in fighting is set to expire.

Forty-two delegations are scheduled to gather at the event hosted by the Union for the Mediterranean, with many represented by their foreign ministers. The meeting is chaired by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.

Israel is not attending the meeting, which in past years has largely become a forum for cooperation between the EU and the Arab world. Monday’s gathering was supposed to focus on the role of the union 15 years after its founding, but it has taken on new significance since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and Israel’s ensuing war in the Gaza Strip.

Borrell said he “regretted” the absence of Israel. He repeated his condemnation of the Hamas attack, while calling on Israel to permanently end its assault, which he said has claimed the lives of over 5,000 children.

“One horror cannot justify another horror,” Borrell said. “Peace between Israel and Palestine has become a strategic imperative for the entire Euro-Mediterranean community and beyond.”

Jordan’s Safadi, who told The Associated Press on the eve of the event that he hopes the talks will help “bridge a gap” between Arab and European countries, urged the officials attending the meeting to back a two-state solution that would recognize a Palestinian state.

“My friends, Europe has a crucial role to play,” Safadi said. “The two-state solution cannot remain a talking point.”

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud has also been invited to the event.

A small pro-Palestinian group rallied before the gathering at the art nouveau building that once housed Barcelona’s Sant Pau Hospital.

The pause in hostilities between Israel and Hamas continued Sunday with a third day of releases of hostages and Palestinian prisoners. It was scheduled for four days and neither side has made fully clear what comes after Monday.

Spain is one of the EU countries that has called for Israel to cease its assault, while also condemning the Hamas attack. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the time has come for the international community and the EU to recognise a Palestinian state during a trip with his Belgian counterpart to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Egypt last week. That prompted Israel to summon the Belgian and Spanish ambassadors.

The Union for the Mediterranean is an intergovernmental organization formed by the 27 members of the EU and 16 from the southern and eastern Mediterranean including Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan.

The EU is the world’s biggest provider of assistance to the Palestinians. Almost 1.2 billion euros (USD 1.3 billion) has been earmarked for 2021-2024.

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