Number of Palestinians killed is ‘truly unbearable’, says Spanish PM

Pedro Sánchez says all civilians must be protected in Israel-Hamas war and reiterates call for two-state solution

Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has urged Israel to rethink its offensive in Gaza, telling its president and prime minister the number of dead Palestinians is “truly unbearable”, and that the response to Hamas’s terrorist attacks last month cannot include “the deaths of innocent civilians, including thousands of children”.

Sánchez’s blunt pleas came during a visit to the Middle East with the Belgian prime minister, Alexander de Croo, during which he called for a peace conference and reiterated that the creation of a Palestinian state remained the best way to bring peace and security to the region.

Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 239 taken hostage when Hamas fighters crossed the border from Gaza on 7 October. According to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, more than 14,100 people have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory strikes.

Speaking as he met Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on Thursday afternoon, Sánchez said Spain had repeatedly condemned Hamas’s “shocking acts of terrorism” and acknowledged Israel’s right to defend itself.

But he added: “Let me also be clear: Israel must abide by international law, including international humanitarian law, in its response … The whole world is shocked at the images that we see coming from Gaza every day. The number of Palestinians killed is truly unbearable. I believe that all civilians must be protected at all costs.”

Sánchez said “a serious and credible prospect for peace” was more necessary than ever. “Without a political settlement, we are bound to run again into a never-ending cycle of violence.”

Earlier, the Spanish prime minister had made a similar request of Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, once again stressing Israel’s obligation to follow international humanitarian law.

“Israel, as we’ve said since the beginning of these terrible attacks, has the right to defend itself,” he said. “But it must also comply with international law, including international humanitarian law. The response cannot imply the deaths of innocent civilians in Gaza, including thousands of children. We need to urgently stop the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.”

Sánchez added that a comprehensive solution needed to be found that included “the establishment of a viable Palestinian state”.

Sánchez said the Palestinian authorities should take control of Gaza when the war ended. “The two-state solution should be implemented to defeat terrorism and guarantee Israel’s security,” he said.

He called for an international peace conference to be held as soon as possible, adding: “We need to achieve the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live in peace and security.”

Sánchez and De Croo were expected to meet the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Thursday afternoon, before travelling to Egypt for talks with President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.

Spain, which currently holds the EU presidency, has already said it is ready to hold a peace conference on the conflict. On Thursday, the country’s foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, told state radio RNE: “The definitive solution is the existence of a Palestinian state that guarantees Israel’s security.” He said Spain was “in favour of recognising” a Palestinian state.

Relations between Spain and Israel have been fraught over recent weeks after some far-left members of Sánchez’s previous cabinet criticised Israel’s reaction to the terrorist atrocities, suggesting it was committing war crimes in Gaza and calling for Netanyahu to be brought before the international criminal court.

Israel’s embassy in Madrid described the remarks as “deeply immoral” and accused some Spanish MPs of aligning themselves with “Isis-style terrorism”.

Spain responded with its own strongly worded statement that accused the Israeli embassy of “spreading falsehoods” about some cabinet members.

“In a full democracy, such as Spain, any political leader can freely express their positions as the representative of a political party,” the statement from the foreign ministry said.

“In any case, the Spanish government’s position on the terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas is clear: unequivocal condemnation; demands for the immediate and unconditional release of the hostages, and the recognition of Israel to defend itself within the limits set by international law and international humanitarian law.”

Spain’s stated desire to recognise a Palestinian state would follow similar official recognition from Sweden, Iceland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Slovakia, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Romania.