A general view of the first of a two-day NATO Defense Ministers Council at the alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 11 October 2023. EFE/EPA/OLIVIER MATTHYS

NATO urges Israel to respond proportionately to Hamas and avoid civilian deaths

Brussels, Oct 11 (EFE).- NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that Israel has “the right to defend itself” against attacks by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, but called for its response to be “proportionate” and do its best to avoid civilian deaths.

“Israel has the right to defend itself, they have suffered horrendous terrorist attacks over the weekend with many civilians killed. And Israel has the right to defend itself against these types of terrorist attacks,” Stoltenberg told a news conference at the end of the first day of a meeting of allied defense ministers.

“Then I also expect that of course, when we see Israeli responses, it will be proportionate and it is important as this conflict continues, to do whatever is possible to prevent the loss of innocent civilian lives,” the Norwegian politician said when asked if he believed Israel, a close NATO partner but not a member, had the right to launch a ground offensive in Gaza.

The principle of proportionality is one of the governing tenets of international humanitarian law. It requires that the anticipated collateral damage of a military operation not be excessive in relation to the likely military advantage that is to be gained from it.

The Allied Secretary-General also deemed it an “important message” that “any nation or organisation hostile to Israel should not try to utilize the situation.”

“We now see that for instance, the United States has increased its military presence in the region to also send a clear message of deterrence to prevent the escalation this conflict,” he said.

Israel and Ukraine

Asked whether the situation in Israel would affect NATO’s support for Ukraine, Stoltenberg’s view is that NATO allies have “the capability, the strength to deal with different challenges at the same time.” And he noted that several NATO allies have already provided intelligence, assistance or other support to Israel.

“We don’t have the luxury of choosing just one set and one challenge,” he added.

After discussing support for Ukraine on Wednesday both at the US-led coalition of countries friendly to Kiev, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attended in person for the first time, and at the NATO-Ukraine Council at ministerial level, the allied defense chiefs plan to speak with their Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, by video conference this Friday.

After five days of fighting, the war between Israel and Hamas has resulted in more than 1,200 dead and 2,900 wounded in Israel and 950 dead and 5,000 wounded in Gaza.

Gallant announced Tuesday that Israel will launch a “full offensive” against Gaza, which he said will completely change the situation on the ground.EFE