The EU will work with its partners to ensure the four-day truce agreed between Israel and Hamas on Wednesday leads to “a humanitarian surge in Gaza,” the bloc's humanitarian aid chief has said.
Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Janez Lenarčič said the bloc hoped the new deal would "allow for the substantial surge in humanitarian aid delivery into and within Gaza."
"And we certainly hope that this will not be a one-off," he added.
In a major diplomatic breakthrough earlier on Wednesday morning, Israel and Hamas agreed on a four-day humanitarian truce and the release of at least 50 women and children held hostage in Gaza since Hamas' deadly incursion into Israel on October 7.
According to the Qatari foreign ministry - which has mediated weeks-long hostage negotiations - the deal includes a "humanitarian pause" to allow "the entry of a large number of humanitarian convoys and relief aid, including fuel designated for humanitarian needs."
The starting time of the pause would be announced within the next 24 hours, according to the Qatari statement.
The EU has quadrupled its humanitarian aid to Palestinians to €100 million this year and has sent at least 15 flights carrying hundreds of tonnes of humanitarian cargo to the Rafah crossing in Egypt, the only land border with the Gaza Strip.
But the EU and the international community's aid efforts have been plagued with difficulties, with a "woefully inadequate" average of 50 trucks entering Gaza per day, according to Lenarčič, compared to 100 trucks per day before the outbreak of the conflict.
"There is an acute shortage across Gaza of all the most basic necessities: food, medicines, including anaesthetics, and water," Lenarčič warned, adding that the current food assistance currently covered only 10% of the minimum caloric intake.
Medical facilities are also "either on the brink of collapse or have already shut down," he said, largely due to the lack of fuel. Last Friday, Israel's war cabinet agreed to let two trucks of fuel a day into Gaza to secure water, sewage and desalination systems, with strict surveillance conditions to ensure deliveries are not hijacked by Hamas for military purposes.
Lenarčič also called for the opening of "another land crossing" to complement the Rafah crossing, the only current open route into Gaza, as well as "other avenues for allowing additional assistance into Gaza."
The EU executive is mulling a maritime humanitarian corridor, proposed earlier this month by Cypriot president Nikos Christodoulides, but has voiced concerns over the lack of a functioning port on the Gaza shore where humanitarian cargo could be off-loaded.
EU position remains fragmented
Lenarčič also called for "urgent and extended humanitarian pauses throughout Gaza and for a sufficient number of days," to enable a scale-up of assistance.
Humanitarian access has been hindered by Israel's ceaseless bombardments, prompting EU leaders to jointly call late last month for “humanitarian corridors and pauses" to allow "unhindered access" to the besieged enclave during a summit last month.
EU leaders had been splitting hairs over the semantics of the statement, with leaders such as Spain's Pedro Sánchez and Ireland's Leo Varadkar expressing preference for a stronger-worded statement that called for a humanitarian ceasefire.
Madrid, seen as the leading voice in calling for restraint in Israel's offensive, does not preside over the European Council and does not mediate foreign affairs decisions, the bloc's top diplomat Josep Borrell reminded the European Parliament's chamber on Wednesday.
"And so if you want to criticise anyone, you can criticise me," Borrell said.
Borrell also highlighted the strong divisions that persist between EU leaders on the issue.
"Until now there have been different positions from the leaders on how Israel is exercising its right to self-defence. When there is no common position, I as High Representative cannot represent that position. I cannot represent it but I must continue to work to reach that common position," Borrell explained.
"I, as High Representative, must continue working to ensure member states come together in a way that allows them to be a geopolitical force in this conflict," he added.
Both Borrell and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have in recent weeks outlined the bloc's vision for a potential peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, based on the so-called two-state solution.
The EU could play a key role in mediating peace talks and in brokering a solution, Borrell reiterated on Wednesday, repeating the bloc's criteria for a post-war Gaza, including no Hamas rule and no Israeli occupation of the strip.
"This could be an opportunity. This could be a moment to build peace," Borrell explained.
"We Europeans must be an active part of a solution," he added. "That solution can only come about with an agreement on what we have been advocating for the past years: the coexistence of two peoples that should be able to share the same land and the same peace."