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EU foreign ministers meet on Ukraine aid, Hamas sanctions

March 18, 2024

Josep Borrell, the bloc's top diplomat, welcomed agreements on a new aid package for Ukraine, as well as sanctions on Hamas and violent Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks with the media as he arrives for a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, March 18
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the war in Gaza has become a "graveyard for many of the most important principles of humanitarian law." Image: /AP Photo/picture alliance

EU foreign ministers met in Brussels on Monday to discuss the ongoing war in Ukraine, Belarus, the situation in the Middle East and other current affairs.

The meeting was led by the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who earlier on Monday had an informal discussion via video conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

"A solid compromise has been agreed at the working level and I hope that this will be continued until full adoption soon, but the political agreement is there," Borrell told reporters afterwards.

EU sanctions Israeli settlers for first time

The bloc agreed to impose further sanctions on Hamas and to introduce sanctions against violent Israeli settlers in the West Bank for the first time.

The measures, which had previously been blocked by Hungary, include travel bans and asset freezes on certain individuals. They follow in the footsteps of the US and UK.

Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are considered illegal under international law. There has been an explosion in acts of violence carried out by the settlers in the territory against the Palestinian population since October 7.

The EU also said it would add to previous sanctions imposed on Hamas, with diplomats saying those would came into effect first on the request of members such as Germany who are keen to make clear that they are not comparing Hamas and Israeli settlers.

The bloc remains divided between members who strongly support Israel and those who are more sympathetic to the Palestinians.

Borrell, who is closer to the latter group, said earlier on Monday that the war in Gaza has become a "graveyard for many of the most important principles of humanitarian law."

Russians sanctioned over Navalny death

The EU foreign ministers also agreed to impose sanctions on 30 Russian officials over the death of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in an Arctic prison last month.

"We agreed to sanctions on those responsible for the murder of Alexei Navalny," Borrell said following the meeting.

Again following in the footsteps of the UK and the US, the EU said it would impose travel bans and asset freezes on the prison officials who it considers responsible for the opposition figure's death.

Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, had called for President Vladimir Putin — who was declared the overwhelming and unsurprising winner in Sunday's election — to no longer be considered the legitimate leader of Russia, a step that the EU was not willing to take.

Belarus and Gaza also on agenda

The foreign ministers, together with their Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, who participated over video conference, addressed the issue of Russia's continuing aggression against Ukraine.

Considering the ongoing support of Belarus for Russia, the ministers were expected to discuss the latest developments in Russia's neighboring country, particularly the deteriorating human rights situation.

The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gazawas also  high on the agenda.

EU and others organize maritime corridor for Gaza

EU allocates €5 billion to support Ukraine militarily

Top diplomats representing the EU's 27 countries agreed to increase its support to Ukrainian armed forces by €5 billion (around $5.45 billion) under the European Pace Facility (EPF) for military assistance to Ukraine in 2024. 

For this purpose, they have set up a special Ukraine Assistance Fund (UAF) within EPF, the European Council said in a statement. The newly established fund will allow the EU to further support the evolving needs of the Ukrainian military through the provision of both lethal and non-lethal military equipment and training, it added.

"With the fund, we will continue to support Ukraine defend itself from Russia's war of aggression with whatever it takes and for as long as we need to,"  EU's foreign policy chief Borrell said.

ab,as/fb (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)