Pro-Palestinian and former Conservative (Høyre) prime minister Kåre Willoch joined the chorus of condemnation on Friday against Israel’s ongoing attacks and blockade of the Gaza Strip. Foreign Minister Børge Brende, who was forced to shelter from Hamas rockets during a Middle East visit this week, also sharply criticized Israel for escalating its attacks.
“What we have seen in the last week and a half is absolutely terrible,” Willoch told newspaper Dagsavisen. “Gaza is a very densely populated area, and so this is a result that those who send bomber aircraft into Gaza must be prepared for. There is no excuse for this mass killing of civilians.”
By Friday morning, around 260 Palestinians had reportedly been killed and 1,400 injured in the latest attacks, while one Israeli had been killed by Hamas rocket fire.
Willoch said Israel did have the right to defend itself after being the target of more than 1,200 Hamas rockets. “But the right to self defense is very straightforward,” he said. “Israel knows that if they give up the blockade of Gaza and stop their occupation, you will have a system which leads to a final end to the hostility between Palestinians and Israelis. The cause of the unrest is the blockade and the occupation. And it is there the solution lies.”
The 85-year-old former statesman also strongly condemned the news Israel had blocked emergency aid into Gaza. While he applauded the efforts of Høyre Foreign Minister Brende, Willoch said the government needed to be “crystal clear” that the occupation of the Palestinian territories and Gaza Strip blockade violated human rights and international law. “Norway should seek to cooperate with other European countries, Nordic countries or through the EU, to put growing pressure on Israel to get them to face reality.”
Work towards a ceasefire looked promising when Brende travelled to Israel and Palestine on Tuesday, but by the evening Israel had ramped up its attacks on Gaza, and on Thursday night Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a ground offensive. “Israel’s ground offensive on the Gaza Strip is unacceptable,” Brende told news bureau NTB. “I now appeal to Israel to adhere to international law – to distinguish between civilian and military targets. We’re already seeing heartbreaking pictures from Gaza. I fear the ground offensive will result in more loss of civilian life.”