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Israel furious as European trio recognises Palestinian state

A pro-Palestinian demonstrator runs with a Palestinian flag during a rally in New York earlier this week
— Jerusalem (AFP)

Israel reacted with fury after three European countries said Wednesday they would recognise a Palestinian state, more than seven months into the devastating Gaza war.

Ireland, Norway and Spain said they would formally recognise the State of Palestine on May 28, drawing praise from many Arab and Muslim states.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the move amounted to a "reward for terror", after Palestinian militant group Hamas launched its October 7 attack which sparked the Gaza war.

Israel said it was recalling its envoys to Dublin, Oslo and Madrid for "urgent consultations" and also summoned the three European ambassadors for a rebuke.

European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell posted on X that he would work with the bloc's 27 members "to promote a common EU position based on a 2-state solution".

A Palestinian man and his children inside a building that was hit by an Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip

Israel's far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, on his first visit since October 7 to the contested religious site of the Temple Mount in the Old City of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, said the recognition rewarded "murderers and aggressors".

His visits to the site -- known as the Al-Aqsa mosque compound to Muslims -- have been cited by Hamas as one reason for the group's October attack on Israel, which it called "Al-Aqsa Flood".

The White House said President Joe Biden opposed unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, saying it should be realised "through direct negotiations".

Biden's National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned Israel not to withhold funding intended for the Palestinian Authority in retaliation.

Most Western governments, including the United States, say they are willing to recognise Palestinian statehood one day -- but not before thorny issues such as final borders and the status of Jerusalem are settled.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said "recognition of Palestine is a means of supporting the moderate forces which have been losing ground in this protracted and brutal conflict".

"In the midst of a war, with tens of thousands killed and injured, we must keep alive the only alternative that offers a political solution for Israelis and Palestinians alike: Two states, living side by side, in peace and security."

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says Madrid will recognise Palestine as a state on May 28, 2024

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Netanyahu was "causing so much pain, destruction and resentment in Gaza and the rest of Palestine that the two-state solution is in danger".

And Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris called the October 7 attack "barbaric" but stressed that "a two-state solution is the only way out of the generational cycles of violence, retaliation and resentment".

- 'Important step' -

Israel's borders

According to the Palestinian Authority, which rules parts of the occupied West Bank, 142 of the 193 UN member countries already recognise a Palestinian state.

The Palestine Liberation Organization, seen internationally as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, hailed Wednesday's moves as "historical".

Hamas also welcomed "an important step towards affirming our right to our land", while Bassem Naim, a senior Hamas political bureau member, said it would mark "a turning point in the international position on the Palestinian issue".

A Palestinian in Gaza's southern city of Rafah, Ismail Hassuna, 46, said the European trio's decision was a step that "will restore hope" and should help in efforts to "stop Israel from its heinous crimes".

The rubble of a building hit by Israeli bombardment in the Al-Daraj neighbourhood in Gaza City on May 21, 2024

Political analyst Ines Abdul Razek, who heads the Palestine Institute for Public Democracy, called the decision symbolic but "not a great victory".

She said what was needed was "actual measures, including sanctions and arms embargoes" against Israel.

Hamas's October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Palestinians carry boxes of humanitarian aid after rushing trucks from the US-built Trident Pier near Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on May 18, 2024

The militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

On Wednesday a hostages campaign group released footage of five Israeli female soldiers being captured by militants on October 7 and taken away.

Speaking about the video, Netanyahu vowed to continue fighting Hamas to "ensure what we have seen tonight never happens again".

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,709 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

Israel also imposed a siege that has deprived Gaza's 2.4 million people of most water, food, medical and fuel supplies, and brought much of the population to the brink of famine.

- Deadly fighting -

Fierce fighting has raged around Rafah, the last part of Gaza to face a ground invasion, where an AFP team reported more bombardment early Wednesday.

Children stand near a crater caused by Israeli bombardment in a street in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip

Heavy battles have also rocked Gaza's northern and central areas where Hamas forces have regrouped, and more Israeli strikes have hit Gaza City, Jabalia and Zeitun.

Israel said its troops were fighting on the ground in Rafah and Jabalia, and three more soldiers were killed on Wednesday, bringing the army's toll since the ground offensive began on October 27 to 287.

Ten people were killed in the central town of Al-Zawaida overnight, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital said, and Gaza's civil defence agency said six bodies were recovered from the rubble of a house in Jabalia.

Israel's military said soldiers had carried out targeted raids on dozens of Hamas military compounds in Jabalia.

The World Health Organization has said northern Gaza's last two functioning hospitals, Al-Awda and Kamal Adwan, were besieged, trapping more than 200 patients.

A Palestinian boy stands amid the rubble in a building heavily damaged by an Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 22, 2024

Israeli troops began their ground assault on Rafah early this month, defying international opposition over fears for the more than one million civilians trapped there.

Israel ordered mass evacuations from Rafah, and the UN says more than 800,000 people have fled.

Heavy fighting has also rocked the other major Palestinian territory, the occupied West Bank, where an Israeli raid entered its second day in the city of Jenin.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian health ministry said Israeli forces had killed 10 people since the fighting began on Tuesday morning.