The European Union (EU) will launch a humanitarian air corridor to Gaza through Egypt, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced on Monday, with the first flights expected to depart in the coming days.
“Palestinians in Gaza are in need of humanitarian help and aid,” von der Leyen said to reporters in Albania on Monday, where she was attending a summit of Balkan nations. “That is why we are launching an EU humanitarian air bridge to Gaza through Egypt.”
The EU chief added that the first two flights will happen “this week” and reiterated that the European bloc is tripling its humanitarian aid to Gaza to $79 million, saying that innocent Palestinians “cannot pay the price of Hamas’ barbarism.”
Von der Leyen’s comments follow statements from the foreign ministers of Egypt and France earlier on Monday in which they called for the uninhibited supply of humanitarian aid to Gaza, as well as the safe passage of foreign nationals from the under-siege enclave.
Several prominent European lawmakers had been critical of Von der Leyen’s response to the crisis, after she had expressed the EU’s unconditional support for Israel. European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said last week that EU policy on such matters is determined by its member states, rather than the European Commission president.
“We certainly defend the right of Israel to defend itself against the attack that [it] has been suffering, but as any right, it has a limit – and this limit is international law and international humanitarian law,” Borrell said to reporters in Beijing last week.
He also warned that Israel’s retaliatory actions could provoke a severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Israel dropped some 6,000 bombs on Gaza in the first six days of its bombardment of the densely populated enclave, according to the country’s air force.
At least 2,750 people have been killed, with another 9,700 injured in the unprecedented military operation conducted by the Israeli armed forces in retaliation for Hamas’ surprise attack on October 7, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. The Hamas attack has seen about 1,400 people in Israel killed, with thousands more injured.
A United Nations estimate has suggested that as many as one million people have been displaced in Gaza amid missile attacks that have leveled much of the enclave’s infrastructure.