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23 January 2024 afternoon

2024 - First part-session Print sitting

Sitting video(s) 1 / 1

Opening of the sitting num 3

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

14:37:27

Dear colleagues,

Let's start our session.

On January 2024, the opening of the first part-session of the Parliamentary Assembly the still unratified credentials of the German parliamentary delegation were challenged on procedural grounds in accordance with Rule 7.1b of the Assembly's Rule of Procedure, namely on the grounds that the composition of the delegation did not allow fair representation of the political parties or groups of the German Bundestag.

The Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs has examined the various objections raised and has established that the German delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly was appointed in compliance with Articles 25 and 26 of the Statutes of the Council of Europe and Rule 6.2a of the Assembly's Rules of Procedure. Consequently, the Committee concludes that the credentials of the German parliamentary delegation should be ratified.

 

Dear colleagues,

This afternoon the Agenda calls for the election of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.

They are elected for a term of six years, not extendable.

The list of candidates and biographical notices are to be found in Document 15870 and an opinion from the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights in Document 15885 Addendum 2.

The Agenda also calls for the election of three judges to the European Court of Human Rights in respect of Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Luxembourg.

The list of candidates and biographical notices are to be found in Documents 15867, 15877, and 15876, and an opinion from the Committee on the Election of Judges to the European Court of Human Rights in Document 15885 Addendum 3.

The voting will take place in the foyer in front of the hemicycle by secret ballot.

The votes will be open from 2:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Each political group has appointed a teller according to the rules. The tellers are:

SOC: Ms Marietta KARAMANLI

EPP/CD: Ms Andrea EDER-GITSCHTHALER

EC/DA: Mr Kamal JAFAROV

ALDE: Ms Sona GHAZARYAN

UEL: Ms Laura CASTEL

 

I would like to remind them that they will have to be in the room set aside for this purpose at 6:00 p.m. The result of the vote will be announced, if possible, before the close of today’s sitting.

For these first ballots, an absolute majority of the votes is required. If a second round has to be organised, it will take place tomorrow afternoon.

I now declare the ballots open.

In the meantime we continue our work.

 

We will now hear an address by the His Excellency Mr Nikos CHRISTODOULIDES, President of the Republic of Cyprus. After his address, Mr CHRISTODOULIDES will take questions from the floor. 

 

[In French] His Excellency Mr Nikos CHRISTODOULIDES, President of the Republic of Cyprus.

 

[In French] His Excellency Mr Nikos CHRISTODOULIDES, President of the Republic of Cyprus.

 

[Applause]

 

Distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my honour to now welcome among us in this hemicycle His Excellency Mr Nikos CHRISTODOULIDES, President of the Republic of Cyprus.

Mister President, you declared last year at the 4th Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe that the Reykjavík Declaration will renew our commitment to the fundamental principles and values of the Council of Europe and demonstrate our resolve to assist the Council in its crucial role of effectively responding to current and future challenges.

Your country, Cyprus, has been and remains an important partner of the Assembly. The partnership that started with its accession to the Council of Europe on 24 May 1961, less than one year after your country gained its independence. Representatives of your national assembly contribute in a constructive and useful way to debates and other activities of our Assembly, thus helping to promote fundamental rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Cyprus, in Europe, and beyond.

One of my predecessors in the post of Presidents of the Assembly was a remarkable Cypriot politician, Ms Stella KYRIAKIDES. She presided over our Assembly at the most challenging moment and is still remembered for her skill, kindness, and wisdom.

I also wish to thank the Republic of Cyprus for its commitment to the principles of our Organisation, which is also clearly manifested in your support to our actions aimed to address the consequences of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, particularly those aimed at restoring peace and justice.

The Republic of Cyprus is, indeed, a founding member of the registry of damage established by the Council of Europe, the first international legal mechanism that should ensure accountability for the crimes committed by the Russian Federation in and against Ukraine since 24 February 2022.

Mister President, Your Excellency, I have the honour of giving you the floor.

Address: His Excellency Mr Nikos CHRISTODOULIDES, President of the Republic of Cyprus

Mr Nikos CHRISTODOULIDES

President of the Republic of Cyprus

14:45:45

Esteemed President, and friend, Mister Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS,

First of all, I would like to congratulate you for your election as President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and I would like to wish you the best of luck in this ever-so difficult mission. Your long, productive and professional experience on the Greek and the European political stages will, undoubtedly, be the best guarantee – there can't be anything better than that – for success. 

Dear friend, outgoing President, Mister Tiny KOX,

I would like to thank you ever so much for the very, very kind invitation to come and speak here. It was during your visit to Cyprus last July that you offered me this wonderful opportunity, and that is why I am here today. Thank you very much.

President, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, members of the Parliamentary Assembly, Your Excellencies, ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen,

Today, I feel a great sense of honour but also responsibility. Honour because in less than one year after my election to the Presidency of the Republic of Cyprus, I have the honour of being able to speak here in the Council of Europe before you, the Parliamentary Assembly. A sense of responsibility because as President of a small, semi-occupied country, I have the responsibility to work together with those who in an unwavering fashion support the principles of the Council of Europe, an organisation which is there to defend human rights and to establish democracy, rule of law in Europe and beyond as well. 

At the same time, I am here to emphasise the absolute need to protect, to promote multilateralism, because I am of the conviction that this is the only way, the only vehicle that we have at our disposal in order to achieve and to secure those ever-so-key principles and values, those of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe in order to deal with the numerous challenges that exist out there.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Council of Europe is an inseparable piece of an ambitious vision, established by the founders of European unification, who experienced the horror of war, and decisively they moved forward in order to heal those wounds and create a Europe of freedom, a Europe where freedom reigns and where rule of law prevails. It is in that spirit that the Council of Europe has become one of the most important intergovernmental organisations and is on the front line of the promotion of the protection of human rights, democracy and rule of law. 

In this historic city of Strasbourg, the Council of Europe, in this symbolic space where we find ourselves today, important for me personally and for my citizens from Cyprus as well, because it is inextricably linked to our joint effort to create or further European unification, working together in order to protect fundamental values necessary for all of us and values which, unfortunately, today, in some cases and in some places, are not a given. 

As you know in my country, on the island of Cyprus, over the last 50 years we have been experiencing the terrible consequences of the violations of fundamental human rights and liberties, 50 years after the barbaric Turkish invasion of 1974. In European Cyprus, we have occupation, displaced individuals, we have missing persons, we have people trapped in enclaves. 

Members, unfortunately, once again at the European level, on the international stage, we find ourselves in a period of multiple, multilevelled challenges, going beyond borders and nationalities. Threats against human rights, peace, democracy, pluralism, we have climate change, the climate crisis, an increase in migrant and refugee flows, terrorism, religious fundamentalism, and humanitarian and food crises. These are only a few of the numerous different crises that we are invited to confront today. If you like, as a result of the crises that I just mentioned, the role and the importance of multilateralism of dialogue, of peaceful resolution, that is the only way we can go. It is the role of the Council of Europe, of the Parliamentary Assembly as well, the role of each one of you here is all the more important under these circumstances. 

Friends, I am absolutely convinced that the best and the most effective response to these challenges and threats against multilateralism is expansion, is strengthening, making more robust, through deeper co-operation through a too concerted effort amongst the democratic countries in the world to move forward and the vehicle will be intergovernmental organisations like this. 

It is the only thing that we have at our disposal right now in order to fight for peace, for security, for welfare in Europe. Guides in this effort are to be our common vision for the future, that future that we want to have for us, for our citizens and more importantly, for our children and for generations to come. 

In this effort, ladies and gentlemen, the key role is played by you, the members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. It is here, where in practice, with action, not just with words, democratic dialogue between the 46 elected members of the Council of Europe, in this temple of democracy, you play an absolutely key role building the bridge, that of consultation, of co-operation, of working together between the peoples of Europe. 

Thank you very much. 

Mr Nikos CHRISTODOULIDES

President of the Republic of Cyprus

14:52:46

Ladies and gentlemen,

The vision of peace, pluralistic democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law that led to the establishment of the Council of Europe has never been more pertinent.

We are witnessing a growing attempted erosion of rules-based international order, rising nationalist violation of human rights, including the freedom of expression, the right to education and religious rights.

In the area of gender equality, following decades of steady progress, a backlash against women's rights has emerged, resulting in further persisting inequalities.

At the same time, violence against women in all its forms is rising, while sexual health and reproductive rights of women are also being increasingly infringed upon.

Furthermore, social inequalities are growing and must be addressed to mitigate the consequences of current social and economic challenges.

Let me be clear and underline once more: there can be no complacency on protecting and upholding freedom and human rights in Europe.

The Council of Europe's leadership is crucial in preventing these violations, safeguarding inter alia, gender equality, women's rights, the right education and social equality.

These should always be at the core of its policy priorities, using the legally binding tools at their disposal, such as the European Social Charter, the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, the European Cultural Convention, and crucially, the European Convention on Human Rights and its protocols.

The European Court of Human Rights is an indispensable shield of our fight to uphold human rights, rule of law and democracy.

As the prime body of overseeing convention compliance, the court is playing a catalytic role through judgment in this regard.

It stands as a sacred guardian of human rights in our continent, supporting our democracies and enhancing governance.

In this regard, states have a collective and unconditional obligation to fully adhere to and implement the Court's final judgments.

Full and non-discriminatory implementation of all judgments of the European Court of Human Rights is an essential component of our efforts.

Systematic non-compliance with the Court's judgments poses a serious threat to the Court's authority, the Convention's effectiveness, and the Council's credibility, and by extension to the rule of law, democracy and human rights.

It is deeply regrettable, ladies and gentlemen, that a large number of the Court's judgments on human rights violations are still not implemented in full, or even not at all, due to the lack of political will.

One such judgment is the fourth interstate case, Cyprus versus Turkey in which Ankara, as with many other cases, has failed today to comply [with].

Mr President, esteemed members of the Parliamentary Assembly, ladies and gentlemen.

From the ruins and darkness of the Second World War grew a glimmer of hope and light.

Multilateralism became the driver for peace in the Council of Europe, as well as the United Nations and the European Union, rose as vehicles and catalysts of cooperation and of upholding common values, so that the world would never again relive the horrors of war that ravaged Europe and beyond.

Despite the progress achieved 70 years since the establishment of the Council of Europe, multilateralism is facing dire challenges yet again in Europe and beyond.

We are witnessing suffering from terrifying wars and horrendous atrocities.

In Europe, the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine demonstrated that peace in Europe and indeed in the world can never be taken for granted.

From the outset of the war, Cyprus condemned Russian aggression towards Ukraine, which has led to some 10 million Ukrainians displaced as well as refugees.

From the very beginning, Cyprus has stood in unwavering solidarity with Ukraine and its people.

We reiterate our unequivocal support to Ukraine's unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its international recognised borders. And in doing so, ladies and gentlemen, we stand on the right side of history.

We ought to be unequivocal in our message: we will never allow border changes stemming from violence and war.

It is a matter of principle of upholding international legality and the core tenets of the UN charter.

The threats to Europe and the world will not be deterred if we do not act decisively and in unity.

It is our collective responsibility to uphold, no matter the cost, international legality.

Diplomacy is key to this end.

We need to focus our intention on ending the hostilities and ensuring lasting peace in Ukraine, based on the principles of international law and the UN charter.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is becoming painfully evident that there are no frozen conflicts, and that in the absence of viable comprehensive solutions, the risk of eruption of conflict with far reaching consequences is real.

The current war in the Middle East - Cyprus and Europe's immediate region - proves this point.

The unfolding war is a litmus test for us all, not only for regional stability, but for peace and security on a global scale.

From the very beginning, we have condemned Hamas' heinous terrorist attacks on October 7 which led to the resurgence of the current cycle of violence.

Terrorism is a threat to all of us.

At the same time we should be clear that Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people nor the Palestinian cause.

While the drama of the hostages continue, we firmly believe that the unconditional and immediate release of all the hostages is key to ending the crisis.

At the same time, while fully acknowledging Israel's right to self defence in line with international law, including international humanitarian law, I emphasise in the strongest terms that all civilians and civilian infrastructures must be fully protected.

A tragedy with far-reaching effects is evolving. We mourn the loss of life of so many people.

Our priority must continue to be the protection and the end of the suffering of so many innocent lives.

And the only way forward is ensuring that there is a peace lifeline, that emerges out of this war, and that means reviving the Middle East peace process on the basis of a two-stage solution, as reflected in the UN resolutions.

In doing so, the European Union together with like-minded partners such as the UK and the United States, as well as our Arab regional partners, must be a core part of such a strategic discussion on the basis of the Peace Day initiative.

I truly believe that this is the only guarantee for ensuring conditions of lasting peace, security and dignity, equally for Israelis and Palestinians, as well as preventing a wider multi-front spillover.

At the same time, given the tremendous humanitarian needs of Gaza, Cyprus - the closest EU member state in the region with excellent relations with our neighbouring countries - has put forward a comprehensive initiative for a one-way maritime corridor, the Amalthea Plan.

The Cyprus maritime corridor initiative provides for a complementary route to existing and future routes for humanitarian assistance to be delivered to the civilians in Gaza. I'm very pleased that we have recently set the corridor in motion.

It remains at the disposal of the international community for contributing to a sustainable high volume and secure flow of humanitarian aid to civilians in the Gaza strip.

Dear friends,

In another region, in Nagorno-Karabakh, we have become witnesses to yet another humanitarian crisis affecting tens of thousands of people.

This acute humanitarian crisis has turned into a mass exodus of the Armenian population from the region.

We need to take all necessary measures to provide immediate humanitarian relief and address the long-term situation of the ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh.

At the same time, the increased and immediate needs of Armenia stemming from the events of last September should be properly and adequately addressed.

Cyprus supports the normalisation and the peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan within the framework of the European Union mediation, which will undoubtedly contribute to the long-term stability and prosperity of the wider region.

Any incentives to facilitate and encourage such development should be balanced and carefully planned and implemented.

Dear friends,

The aforementioned crisis and tragedies clearly illustrate that prolonged political stalemates should not be treated with complacency.

The absence of diplomacy and dialogue can bring cycles of perpetual violence with catastrophic repercussions.

It is a reality that there are no frozen conflicts.

As I have mentioned, the vacuum created by the absence of viable lasting peace becomes a fertile ground for crisis.

This is something that we know very well in my country.

Human rights in Cyprus remain tragically an unfulfilled promise for all Cypriots as a result of the legal invasion of Turkey in 1974.

They continue the occupation.

2024 marks the 50th anniversary of the Turkish invasion.

50 years of continued illegal occupation, five decades of division, continuous violations of fundamental freedoms and basic human rights on the European continent cannot continue.

Always, but especially on anniversaries such as this one, my thoughts are constantly with the hundreds of thousands of Cypriots who were displaced, and year after year wait for the moment that they will return to their homes.

They are with the families of the missing persons that desperately seek information about the fate of their loved ones. They are with the enclaved that stoically await the end of the division.

These are all matters that fall within your mandate to be informed of, but are also your responsibility to act upon via resolutions of the Parliamentary Assembly and via judgments of the Court.

We support and aspire to these actions as they greatly reinforce our efforts to restore respect for the human rights of all Cypriots.

Dear friends,

It is high time for peace.

All Cypriots - Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Maronites, Armenians and Latins - deserve the same human rights and fundamental freedoms as all other Europeans.

They deserve to prosper in a reunified country, member state of the European Union, where their human rights and fundamental freedoms are safeguarded and upheld.

As the first president of the Republic of Cyprus, born just few months before the 1974 Turkish invasion and growing up in a de facto divided Cyprus, my vision and my utmost priority is to reunify my country and its people, so that we can all live in conditions of peace, security and prosperity.

I have been actively pursuing this vision since the first day that I assumed my duties. I want to reassure you here today that I will continue to do so with determination and courage.

I'm committed to reaching a solution for a bizonal bicommunal federation with political equality as prescribed in the relevant Security Council resolutions. This is the only viable path ahead.

In this regard I welcome the recent appointment of the personal envoy of the UN Secretary General Ms María Angela Holguín Cuéllar, and aspire for her contribution in resuming negotiations on the basis prescribed by the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and from where they were interrupted at Crans-Montana in 2017.

Ensuring a conducive surrounding environment is also imperative.

Regrettably, on the ground we continue to be faced with successive provocations and violations as well as attempts of incursion by the Turkish occupation forces into the buffer zone in a number of areas.

We have responded to the challenges with calm and restraint while taking all action to ensure that the status of the buffer zone is safeguarded.

Our focus remains to chart a positive way forward and we are even more determined to this perspective.

Dear friends,

I stand today before you asking for your support and tangible contribution as we strive for peace.

The Council of Europe in general and the Parliamentary Assembly in particular have the political legitimacy to actively contribute to our efforts, both to ensure that there is a conducive environment, and in our efforts for a comprehensive settlement.

One such example is a report of the member of the Parliamentary Assembly Mr Piero FASSINO, regarding Varosha, which is in preparation.

It is of utmost importance that we remain vigilant that any move other than the transfer of the area to the administration of the United Nations constitutes a violation of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions including 550 of 1984, and 789 of 1992.

In this regard, the Council of Europe's report offers a unique opportunity to convey the urgency of the matter and the need to respect international legality and the territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus, and to call for the restoration of the property rights of the displaced inhabitants, as recognised by the European Court of Human Right in the case of Cyprus versus Turkey.

Esteemed members of the Parliamentary Assembly,

The sole answer to the challenges we face is collective multilateral action.

The institutions that are drivers of such actions must be able to adapt and respond to challenges so as to effectively address [them].

In fact, during the Fourth Summit in Iceland, we reaffirmed our steadfast support to multilateralism. We also committed to engage in regular high-level dialogue with member states and partners in order to strengthen the Reykjavík principles of democracy.

This should continue to be our main focus in order to collectively and effectively face these common challenges.

In closing, I would like once again to warmly congratulate you on the important and extremely valuable work that you perform here in the Assembly.

This year marks 75 years since the foundation of the Council of Europe.

75 years since its establishment, the Council remains our lighthouse.

We ought to learn from the past but also from ongoing crises in order to build a better future for the next generations based on peace and prosperity.

At this critical juncture it is imperative for all of us to take a step back, rethink how we envision our future on this continent and how the institutional framework can be a more effective vehicle to achieve our vision.

On my end, I can assure you that Cyprus remains fully committed to its responsibilities and obligations and will do everything in its power to preserve and promote the fundamental values of the Council of Europe.

We remain committed to maintaining and enhancing the relevance of this vital organisation.

The Republic of Cyprus will always stand on the right side of history and by the Council of Europe's side in its tireless efforts for the protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

I thank you.

[Applause]

Questions: His Excellency Mr Nikos CHRISTODOULIDES, President of the Republic of Cyprus

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:11:54

Mister President, dear Nikos, thank you very much. Thanks first of all for your kind words upon my presidency, and of course overall for your most interesting address.

Members of the Assembly have questions to put to you.

We will first hear questions from the speakers on behalf of the political groups. And then the response from Mr Nikos CHRISTODOULIDES to those questions.

Please, will the speakers limit their intervention to 30 seconds because it's known that this procedure is to ask questions and not making speeches.

First is Mr Piero FASSINO on behalf of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group.

Mister FASSINO, you have the floor.

 

Mr Piero FASSINO

Italy, SOC

15:12:36

Thank you, Mister President. Thank you for your presence.

This year, as you mentioned, will mark 60 years since the deployment of a UN Interim Force and 50 years since the partition of the island.

At least five generations, including your own, were born, raised and lived on a divided island. Since the Annan Plan and the Crans-Montana negotiations, all attempts in recent years to reach a solution have failed.

I ask you, because questions need to be asked, what do you think are the obstacles that have so far prevented a reunification of the island. Is the solution of the Annan Plan, a bi-zonal and bi-communal federal republic, still valid? Do the conditions exist to bring this about and what would they be? And if the conditions exist, would they allow the Turkish Cypriots to be recognised?

In any case, what are the proposals that you intend to put forward to advance the project? Since you just said, and I appreciated it very much, that you consider reunification a strategic goal of yours.

Finally, you know that I am a rapporteur for Varosha, you mentioned that. I have visited that desert town and I would like to ask that as well. How do you think an agreement on Varosha is possible? If it is possible, and how you are going to work to facilitate coming to an agreement on the status of Varosha as well.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:14:17

Mister President, you have the floor.

Mr Nikos CHRISTODOULIDES

President of the Republic of Cyprus

15:14:22

Thank you very much for the question.

If I did indeed believe that solving the Cypriot problem was impossible, I wouldn't be involved in this effort. And indeed I'm happy that the General Secretary of the United Nations recognises that we are prepared to move forward is dedicated to solving this issue on the basis of a bi-zonal, bi-communal situation. He has designated a personal envoy who will visit Cyprus in the days to come in order to begin a new effort.

Now, solving the Cyprus issue is possible.

The present day situation cannot constitute a solution for anybody. Not for Turkish Cypriots or for Greek Cypriots.

Mister FASSINO, if solving the issue depended on Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, it would have been solved years ago.

The basic reason why we have had no movement on this particular issue is the position of Türkiye, the position of the Turkish side, which has blocked any sort of solution of the Cyprus issue. And within this particular framework we are ready to examine the state of affairs and by solving the Cyprus issue will arrive at a situation which will be to the benefit of all.

To the benefit of all, I repeat, including Türkiye.

So, solving the Cyprus issue is possible if there is the necessary political will.

And I'll close with this: as somebody who was born just a few days or just a few months before the Turkish invasion, and I grew up in a country which has been divided undoubtedly, I want to hand over to the generations of the future, to my children, to all children of Cyprus, Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, a reunified homeland, because a Cyprus which is not unified, well of course then its future will not be secure, if it is divided.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:16:47

Ms Ingjerd Schie SCHOU on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party now has the floor.

Madam Ingjerd Schie SCHOU.

Ms Ingjerd Schie SCHOU

Norway, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

15:16:54

Thank you, President.

It is our understanding that Cyprus and France have proposed to supply humanitarian aid to the civilians of Gaza through the sea corridor from Cyprus. Time is of urgency in this humanitarian crisis. What is the status of this plan and how soon can it be implemented?

And, President, we have not forgotten the Cyprus problem. Famagusta is on our agenda. How can we in the international community, and more specifically the Council of Europe, contribute to you and your people to have their rights respected?

 

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:17:37

Thank you, Madam Ingjerd Schie SCHOU.

Mister President?

Mr Nikos CHRISTODOULIDES

President of the Republic of Cyprus

15:17:39

Now, the issue of Famagusta, which was mentioned by Mr Piero FASSINO, as rapporteur is of course indicative of the interest that exists here within the Parliamentary Assembly in Famagusta.

It's important for us to clarify that not any activities will be conducted in the region of Famagusta, which will make the re-initiation of negotiations and the resolution of the Cyprus issue more difficult.

There are specific resolutions of the United Nations on the issue of Famagusta, and the implementation of these resolutions would be the best proof that, indeed, we desire a resolution to the Cyprus issue.

Now, coming to the humanitarian corridors, which, indeed, the role of the Republic of Cyprus has been greeted by the French government, by the European Union, by numerous different countries, by the United States as well. As I mentioned, the Republic of Cyprus is the member state of the European Union which essentially is a direct neighbour of this region where the troubles are.

We have ties with all of the parties involved. With Israel, with Palestine, with Egypt, with Jordan, with all of the countries of the region we have close ties.

Within this particular framework, from the very first moment, Cyprus was used in order to offer refuge to individuals who wanted to leave from that region. They could come to Cyprus. Particularly Europeans came to Cyprus when they were removed from the area.

Also, we propose the creation of a humanitarian sea corridor from Larnaca to Gaza. It would be through this particular corridor that humanitarian aid would be provided to the population there suffering. I am very glad, because this particular initiative has now been implemented.

I would like to thank the Government of the United Kingdom, because with the help of the UK, we have been able to transfer humanitarian aid from Larnaca not directly to Gaza, but through Egypt, to the region.

We continue our negotiations and discussions and consultations with all parties, with the Israelis, with the Palestinians, in order to continue this particular flow of humanitarian aid.

We are ready and at any moment we are there. We have the necessary infrastructure in order to provide security for the movement of this humanitarian aid, which is being transferred to Gaza. The role of the Republic of Cyprus, of course, the role that we've played has been recognised by all parties involved and by all the countries in the region.

Once again, I repeat, we are ready to send more humanitarian aid when necessary to the region.

I am particularly glad. I'd like to mention this as well. I'd like to greet the position of the French government, in other words the organisation of a summit in Paris, where this particular aspect of the issue was discussed. In the course of this particular summit, for the first time with great detail, the Cypriot proposal was discussed.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:21:05

On behalf of the European Conservatives Group, Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO. 

Dear Oleksii, you have the floor.

Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

15:21:11

Thank you, Chairman, Mister President.

Unfortunately, Cyprus, for decades, was used by Russian oligarchs and crooks for money laundering. Even after the start of the Russian invasion of my country, Ukraine, two years ago, there are media reports saying that such puppets of Putin, such as Abramovich, Usmanov, Usman or Mordashov used Cyprus to hide their dirty money from the sanctions and to launder it.

My question is what is the your and the Cypriot government's plan to stop it and to reforge golden visas and passports into steel or copper handcuffs?

Thank you.

Mr Nikos CHRISTODOULIDES

President of the Republic of Cyprus

15:22:12

The Republic of Cyprus, from the very first moment, as I mentioned in my presentation, was on the right side of history, from the very first moment. 

The Republic of Cyprus, from the very first moment, condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine for many reasons, including the reason being that we are victims of the same type of behaviour from Türkiye, and any sort of invasion, occupation, be it from Russia, be it from Türkiye, there is no difference. They are forms of occupation. They are invasions of an illegal nature. 

And from the very first moment, we were on the right side of history. From the very first moment, we have been implementing all of the sanctions of the European Union against Russia. And it is very important because you mentioned something that is of great concern for the European Union right now, and that is which countries are not implementing these sanctions of the European Union? That has to be looked at, making these sanctions ineffective, in essence. And I am referring to countries which Ukraine may be looking at as allies. But look carefully and see which countries in the European Union are not implementing the sanctions. There is already a report out on that by the Commission about which countries, once again, are not implementing those sanctions. 

Now, you mentioned the issue of Russian investments on the island of Cyprus. Yes, you are right. Mistakes were made, but that is in the past. There are no golden passports on Cyprus, no golden visas, either. That is all in the past. Look at the reports of Moneyval and other reports that have been drafted on Cyprus. Mistakes were made in the past, but the first to pay for those particular mistakes were, well for example, the people of Cyprus, the Republic of Cyprus. We paid for those errors. 

Thank you. 

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:24:21

On behalf of ALDE, Mr Hubert BÜCHEL, you have the floor.

Mr Hubert BÜCHEL

Liechtenstein, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

15:24:28

Dear colleagues, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, I would like to express gratitude to President CHRISTODOULIDES for his remarks.

The European Court of Human Rights plays a pivotal role in safeguarding the fundamental principles of the Council of Europe.

While each member state is legally obliged to implement its rulings, not every state fulfils this obligation. Could the Republic of Cyprus provide insights into the measures being taken to ensure the effective implementation of the legal binding judgment of the Court?

Thank you.

Mr Nikos CHRISTODOULIDES

President of the Republic of Cyprus

15:25:07

Well, thank you very much for the question.

Thank you because you touched upon an issue which I consider... I think it really goes to the core of the importance of the essence of the Council of Europe and its instruments. The non-implementation of decisions of the Court.

I'll speak first of all about Cyprus, because there is no other choice for us. We conform immediately to the decisions of the Court; we execute them. There is no justification whatsoever for non-implementation of Court decisions.

At the same time, however, we do have to admit that a considerable number of countries are not implementing the decisions of the Court completely, or they're only partially implementing them. This, of course, has consequences for the effectiveness of the Court. I think it is something, without wanting to intervene in any fashion into your issues, this is something which ought to be of great concern for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

What is the reaction of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to those countries which do not implement the decisions of the Court and do not respect its rulings? If this particular situation continues into the future, the effectiveness of the Court will be undermined and other countries will be encouraged simply to not implement the Court rulings.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:27:00

On behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left, Mr Paul GAVAN.

Paul, you have the floor.

Mr Paul GAVAN

Ireland, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

15:27:08

Thank you, Mr President, for a very thoughtful speech.

I want to ask you about the Akrotiri air base on your islands, which is classed as British sovereign territory. We know it's being used to launch spy planes to collect intelligence over Gaza in support of Israel's barbaric assault against the people of Gaza, and has also been used as a base for bombing Yemen in a serious escalation of violence in that region.

Mr President, what is your government's view of these operations?

Mr Nikos CHRISTODOULIDES

President of the Republic of Cyprus

15:27:41

I would like to clarify that the Republic of Cyprus cannot get involved in any sort of military operation in the region, in no military operation under any circumstances would the Republic of Cyprus get involved.

As far as the sovereign bases of the United Kingdom, yes, we are in communication right now with the government of the United Kingdom within the framework established by the agreement upon which these particular bases were created. For us, the security of Cyprus, the security of the citizens of Cyprus, and our relations with the countries in the region, this is the number one priority of our government. And under no circumstance whatsoever would we get involved in any military operation or any operation of a military nature. 

As mentioned earlier on, we are involved in humanitarian operations in order to help the populations of the region and we are not involved in military operations. 

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:28:57

Dear Mister President, we are going to change the procedure now since we don't have much time left.

I will give the floor to the first five colleagues on the list.

I will ask you to take notes and answer in your closure.

The first who has the floor is Ms Katalin CSÖBÖR.

Ms Katalin CSÖBÖR

Hungary, EC/DA

15:29:20

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

The Reykjavik Declaration has set the Council of Europe on an ambitious course to face up to various new challenges in migration and the need to combat human trafficking and migrant smuggling.

Cyprus has been at the forefront of mass migrant arrivals in recent years: what actions do you think the Council of Europe should focus on in this area?

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:29:56

Thank you, Madam Katalin CSÖBÖR

Now Ms Sona GHAZARYAN.

Ms Sona GHAZARYAN

Armenia, ALDE

15:30:01

Your Excellency, it's an honour to welcome you to this Assembly.

Recently the Government of Armenia came up with the initiative of the Crossroads of Peace, which is about unblocking the infrastructure, increasing the interconnectivity in the region.

The project will greatly contribute to the prosperity, lasting peace, and co-operation among the nations of the region and beyond.

Mister President what does Cyprus think of this project?

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:30:38

Mr Didier MARIE, you have the floor [in French].

Mr Didier MARIE

France, SOC

15:30:43

Thank you, Mr Chairman. Thank you for your words.

First of all, Mr President, I would like to reaffirm our commitment to the territorial integrity of Cyprus and to a bizonal, bicommunal state solution. I would also like to assure you of our solidarity in the face of provocations by the occupying force in the north of the island, or when Mr Erdoğan uses immigration as an instrument of destabilisation.

As you said, the Republic of Cyprus is ready for discussions, but Mr President, how do you think we can influence Türkiye's position, and what do you expect from our Assembly to ensure the preservation of human rights throughout the island?

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:31:20

Mr Oğuzhan HASIPOĞLU, you have the floor.

Mr Oğuzhan HASIPOĞLU

Cyprus* [Resolution 1376 (2004)]

15:31:26

Thank you, Mister President.

I am the elected representative of the Turkish Cypriot people. As Turkish Cypriots, isn't it unfair for the Turkish Cypriots to be isolated due to the rejection of all United Nation previous plans by your side? As you know, in 2004, we, as Turkish Cypriots, had approved of the unification plan, and you had rejected it.

Now you are in the European Union, and we, Turkish Cypriots, are the one who are being penalised and under isolation and embargos.

So, what is your plan?

At that time, Kofi Annan had made a statement in his report and stated that the Greek Cypriot side is not ready to share the governance and wealth around the island. This was 13 years ago.

Are you now ready to share? Are you now ready to acknowledge the sovereign equality, the political equality? Are you now ready to share the governance and prosperity of the island with the Turkish Cypriots?

[interrupted by the Chair]

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:32:41

Mr Oğuzhan HASIPOĞLU, but it is clear we are asking questions for 30 seconds and we are not making statements. You have already asked two questions instead of one.

Mr Oğuzhan HASIPOĞLU

Cyprus* [Resolution 1376 (2004)]

15:32:51

Why don’t you accept the European Court of Human Rights authorized “Immovable Property Commission” as an effective remedy?

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:32:58

Thank you, Mister Oğuzhan HASIPOĞLU. Thank you very much.

Mister Damien COTTIER.

Mr Damien COTTIER

Switzerland, ALDE

15:33:03

Thank you, Mr President, for the commitments you have made and for your important words on multilateralism. Direct dialogue is also important in a peace process, and my country, Switzerland, has often had the opportunity to host discussions on the future of Cyprus, and would obviously be delighted to do so again. Can we be optimistic about the near future of such direct dialogues? I'd be interested to hear what you have to say on the subject.

And then the second question: you rightly put a lot of emphasis on human rights in the Republic of Cyprus and your desire to develop them, in particular the protection of women against gender violence; one point you didn't mention was the rights of LGBT people. I'd love to hear from you on this point, on the progress you wish to make in your country in this area.

Thank you very much.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:33:49

Mister President, please reply to the questions.

I would ask you to be as brief as you can. We only have 5 minutes. Thank you.

Mr Nikos CHRISTODOULIDES

President of the Republic of Cyprus

15:34:02

The first question concerns the migration issue, and indeed, Cyprus is a country on the front line. It is a country which is confronting serious challenges on this particular front at this moment right now. Approximately 6% of the population of Cyprus is made up of migrants. You asked me what the Council of Europe can do. I think the most important thing that the Council of Europe can do and which ought to be done by the international community would be working together, working together in order to find solutions to the source of this problem. In other words, the root causes of migration, that is what we have to look at. If we do not deal with this particular issue, then these individuals will leave their countries and whatever operations are undertaken in Europe to stop this wave, nothing will be done. It will not be effective. So, we have to focus on the root cause. If, indeed, we want to confront migration in an effective fashion, we have to look at those phenomena which have caused these people to leave their countries. 

Now with regard to the Armenian proposal, well we, the Republic of Cyprus, in other words, support this particular effort. Any effort that involves co-operation between countries, we support it. We feel that it is in the right direction: the crossroads of peace. 

Now, human rights. Human rights for all Cypriots, for all Cypriots. For us, there is no separate set of rights for the Turkish Cypriots and a set of rights for Greek Cypriots, for Latinos, for Armenians, and so on and so forth. To respond to the comment that was made, from the Turkish part of Cyprus, well, I simply want to ask, how did you travel to Strasbourg? Probably with a passport of the Republic of Cyprus. So, that about alienation, about isolation, why? That is because of one thing alone, and that is because of the Turkish invasion and the continued occupation of the island. That is what has deprived Turkish Cypriots of their rights, and you Turkish Cypriots know very, very well that from the day that the Republic of Cyprus entered into the European Union, they all have the right to passports of the Republic of Cyprus. They are citizens of the Republic of Cyprus, and there is a financial regulation of the European Union that dictates all of that. In other words, according to that, Cypriots enjoy all rights of citizens of Cyprus, because they are citizens of Cyprus, and the green line, once again, the same thing.

Now, in the days to come, I will speak about unilateral measures that are going to be taken for our Turkish Cypiot citizens, for their benefit in other words. I would like to say that your future as a Turkish Cypriot and my future as a Greek Cypriot, the future of Cyprus without reunification of our country, it will not be possible. So, the future will not be good. That is why, once again, I would like to invite you, I am sure that the will of the Turkish Cypriots is there, they all want that to take place. I think it is important for that will to be expressed.

You are absolutely right that in my statement I forgot to mention the particular issue, an issue that for over the last couple of years in my country, major steps have been made with regard to the rights of LGTBQI individuals. A very important role is being played by the Council of Europe, because it is upon these particular principles and values, which have been prescribed by the Council of Europe and the European Union, a very clear framework has been put down as to how to fight hate or violence against LGTBQI individuals. Changes have been made in the criminal code in 2015, in 2017, as well, making homophobic and transphobic hate a criminal offence. At the same time, any act of violence results, of course, in serious sanctions. We have moved forward with the registered partnership and the possibilities there, and the general strategy now with the human rights where we have total alignment with the European strategy on this issue. We moved forward in 2022, and we have submitted to the House of Representatives of Cyprus for recognition of gender identity, the new different categories, and also the implementation of all the processes that are necessary in order to establish equality for individuals independent of sexual orientation. In the Cypriot police force, we now have special divisions to deal with these sorts of crimes, and once again, with the help of you, of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe, and with the support of the European Union, a number of important steps forward have been made on this particular front for the recognition of rights of LGTBQI individuals. 

Thank you. 

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

15:40:00

Dear Mister President, thank you so much for being with us today.

I want to thank you most warmly for your address and for the answers you have already given to the questions.

Dear colleagues,

I remind you that voting is open for the election of:

- the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights; and

- 3 judges to the European Court of Human Rights in respect of Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Luxembourg.

 

The votes will close at 6:00 p.m. I invite those of you who have not yet voted to do so.

 

Thank you, Mister President.

[Applause]

 

Dear colleagues, we will now hear an address by the His Excellency Mr Jakov MILATOVIĆ, President of Montenegro. After his address, Mr MILATOVIĆ will take questions from the floor.

 

[in French] His Excellency Mr Jakov MILATOVIĆ, President of Montenegro.

 

Distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, now it is my honour to welcome another president of one of our member states among us in this hemicycle: His Excellency Mr Jakov MILATOVIĆ, President of Montenegro.

Mister President, let me wish you a warm welcome among us and also congratulate you.

You are the youngest person having been elected to the highest function of your country. In your inaugural speech, you stated that "my mission is for Montenegro to become a country of equal opportunities for all its citizens, where hard work and education will be the main factors for success in life". You also declared that your top priority will be to speed up Montenegro's movement towards full membership in the European Union, your country having applied for EU membership in 2008, and you stood ready to undertake all the necessary activities to successfully complete the reform and other necessary processes of transformation of Montenegrin society.

Mister President, you can rest assured that we in this house, the house of democracy, will always be ready to accompany your country in its further protection and promotion of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

Your Excellency, I have the honour of giving you the floor. Your statement will be followed by questions by parliamentarians.

Address: His Excellency Mr Jakov MILATOVIĆ, President of Montenegro

Mr Jakov MILATOVIĆ

President of Montenegro

15:46:16

Dear President of the Parliamentary Assembly, dear Secretary General of the Council of Europe, dear members of the Parliamentary Assembly,

It is both an honour and a great pleasure to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in the year in which we celebrate together the 75th anniversary of this admirable institution.

This milestone marks a significant legacy in advancing and safeguarding the foundational principles of every free society: human rights, the rule of law, and democracy.

Recognising this significant occasion, it is imperative to underscore the commitment of Montenegro to upholding the very principles that the Council of Europe stands for.

In the area of fundamental rights, our country has established a robust legislative and institutional framework, transposing the EU acquis into national legislation and ensuring that Montenegro continues to largely meet its international obligations on human rights and media freedom.

However, being aware of some of the inherited challenges in the implementation of international standards related to human rights and media freedom, Montenegro will strive to improve the media environment including to the already embodied changes of the criminal code, enabling the special protection of journalists, as well as true equality of opportunities for the vulnerable groups, including women, youth, LGBT+ population, people with disabilities, Roma, Egyptians, and others.

This resolved commitment is not merely a formality but a testament of our firm belief in the principles that bind us together as members of this esteemed organisation.

My address today is also an opportunity to present to this Assembly historical changes that Montenegro experienced over the previous few years, which resulted in a fundamental shift towards a genuine democratic development in our country.

Following the parliamentary elections in 2020 Montenegro voted in a new government after nearly three decades of rule by the same political party, stemming from the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, characterised by a low level of trust in the electoral system, politicisation of the public administration, and captured institutions.

The transition of power came to a completion after the presidential elections of the last year, echoing a simple message from the citizens that Montenegro should become a country where justice is evenly distributed, opportunities are equal, and where hard work and education are the only factors for success in life.

Today, almost four years after the change of power in Montenegro, the elections are not any more a question of life and death, as they are still in many places around the globe, but a true pillar of democratic choice of the people.

Recently the Parliamentary Committee of the Parliament of Montenegro was created in order to pursue electoral reform aimed towards further reforms of the electoral process. But the Democratic process is not just an exercise in periodic voting, it is a commitment of continuous and responsive relationship between the state and its citizens, it is a promise that the ideals of democracy and the principles of justice will be upheld and the aspirations of the people will be realised.

It is a process of establishing strong and independent institutions, ready to be a reliable instrument in strengthening the rule of law and guarantee of a legal security to all citizens.

Within just over six months of my presidential term, the key institutions crucial for establishing the rule of law and accelerating Montenegro's journey towards the European Union have been successfully unlocked.

In November, after more than three years of persistent efforts, the constitutional Court attained its full composition.

In December, after more than five years of unsuccessful attempts, the Judicial Council was successfully completed, with the election of the missing members from the ranks of eminent lawyers.

And by the end of January of this year, the Parliament is expected to select the new supreme state prosecutor, after the position was in acting mode since 2019.

All appointments were carried out with large parliamentary support across diverse political entities, underscoring Montenegro's progress towards a nation where political dialogue is reaching a more mature stage. This has, to a significant extent, stabilised the judiciary system and it allows the country to complete the set of conditions necessary for accelerating EU accession.

And although organised crime and the fight against corruption is still a challenge, enormous steps. with support from our strategic partners, have been made in processing high-level police and judiciary officials suspected to be involved in crime and corruption.

The major step towards a more trustworthy judiciary in Montenegro was brought to the work of the newly elected Chief Special State Prosecutor.

Further progress in this regard is expected after the establishment of the full capacity of the judicial system in the country.

Ladies and gentlemen,

A society built on the rule of law is a precondition for a thriving economy that draws investment, fosters economic stability, and fuels growth.

Therefore, continued economic reforms along with the judiciary reforms are key to bringing Montenegro closer to the EU.

In the past three years, following the political changes, Montenegro has experienced one of the most intense periods of structural reforms in its recent history.

The focus has been on the reforms in the labour market, innovation, business environment, including access to finance, and corporate governance.

The fiscal reforms have doubled the minimum wage, increased the average salary, and decreased the tax burden on wages, thereby stimulating employment and reducing the grey economy in the labour market.

This all lead to a speedier convergence of Montenegro with the EU. And at the difficult time, from an economic abyss that the country experienced in 2020, as the economic decline was 15%, Montenegro turned the biggest economic downturn into the greatest economic growth.

However, the path forward is still fraught with challenges. The living standards are still way below the European levels. Thus, reforms in the education system, health, and welfare, coupled with additional measures to protect our environment, together with a large-scale infrastructure investment cycle, are imperative in order to accelerate further our convergence with the EU.

And the stability of the financial system has been further strengthened by the meritocratic election of the new governor of the Central Bank, thus ending the previous acting state in the Central Bank ever since 2022.

Dear members of the Parliamentary Assembly, our journey and the journey of our region, the Balkans, towards a better future needs a sincere confrontation with our past, and it is my firm belief that only a country willing to face its historical truths can generally lay the groundwork for a stable and reconciliatory future.

This commitment has been the cornerstone of my presidency as well. And I firmly believe that it is the duty of my generation of politicians in the Balkans to both forgive and seek forgiveness, ensuring there is no denial of war crimes, as facing the truth is the only part towards a genuine reconciliation in the region. And by confronting our history, we pave the way for a society were the wounds of the past can heal and where the lessons learned can become the foundation of a more resilient and compassionate region.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Despite Montenegro's important achievements in a relatively short period of time, the global reality paints a contrasting picture.

In this crucial year, which is marking the 75th anniversary of this institution dedicated to setting benchmarks in human rights protection and promotion, we face international conflicts highlighting complex challenges which are confronting the global community.

From the very day one of my presidency, I was clear of the foreign policy pillars of Montenegro, including the acceleration of the country's EU integration, strengthening credibility of our NATO membership, fostering good neighbourly relations, and strengthening the role of Montenegro within multilateral initiatives.

And we have all witnessed, unfortunately, an unprovoked Russian aggression against Ukraine. And let me commend the Council of Europe on a swift and proper reaction by showing unity in case of this unprecedented crisis and standing firmly in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

And the Reykjavík Summit of the last year represented a historic opportunity to restate this strong message of support that we all have shown for Ukraine and its people.

Unfortunately, this is not the only conflict that poses a challenge for the entire international community. The ongoing war crisis in the Middle East highlights the imperative for swift action and the persistent search for solutions to bring back peace.

Montenegro deeply regrets for the loss of lives both during the Hamas terrorist attack in Israel as well as in the subsequent bombing of civilian facilities in the Gaza strip.

We are persistent in promoting dialogue on regional and international levels in order to bring back peace to the region.

Montenegro was among the countries that supported a humanitarian ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas at the United Nations General Assembly.

The resolution called for an immediate ceasefire, asking for assistance to be sent urgently to the Gaza strip, including the restoration of access to water and electricity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Montenegro is committed to being a constructive voice in the international community, devoted in taking part in all possible actions to ease the consequences of these conflicts, particularly for the most vulnerable groups. Our dedication extends to doing everything within our capacity of a small nation to contribute to the restoration of peace in the world.

Dear friends, in conclusion, as we reflect on the progress and challenges both within Montenegro and on the global stage, it becomes evident that peace is not only a lofty aspiration, but a collective responsibility of all of us. And as we navigate the complexities of our international and interconnected world, it is upon us to recognise that the values of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights are not just regional aspirations but universal imperatives.

In navigating these challenges, let us remain committed to the principles embodied by the Council of Europe. Let our actions be a testament to our dedication to a world where justice, peace, and respect for human rights prevail.

Finally, my visit today to the Council of Europe is also an opportunity to express gratitude on behalf of the people of Montenegro for the continuous expertise and support this esteemed organisation, to all its bodies, such as the Venice Commission, GRECO, and others has provided to our democratic development.

This has been particularly important for our country's path towards the full membership and full integration into the European Union.

I thank you very much for your attention.

Questions: His Excellency Mr Jakov MILATOVIĆ, President of Montenegro

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:04:51

Mister President,

Thank you very much for your most interesting address.

Members of the Assembly have questions to put to you.

We will first hear questions from the speakers on behalf of the political groups and then hear the response from Mr Jakov MILATOVIĆ to those questions.

Please, will the speakers limit their intervention to 30 seconds. Colleagues should be asking questions and not making speeches.

The first on the list is, on behalf of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group, Ms Marietta KARAMANLI.

You have the floor.

Ms Marietta KARAMANLI

France, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

16:05:26

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

Mister Chairman,

On behalf of the Socialist, Democratic and Green Group, we congratulate you on your appearance before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as the new Head of State of Montenegro. We sincerely hope that the values which inspire the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will be yours throughout your term of office. Many Montenegrin and European citizens are hoping for political calm in the region, and for the advent of political forces committed to a strong, effective and united Europe.

The process of joining the European Union began 13 years ago. Your country continues to face challenges such as the creation of a functional judicial system, the fight against corruption and sustainable economic development. There is also the question of Montenegro's relations with its Balkan neighbors. Some of the political parties that make up the current majority in the Montenegrin parliament have taken very nationalistic or even pro-Russian stances, or have rejected Kosovo's independence.

We would, therefore, like to know how you see the development of communities of different languages and religions in your country, and how Montenegro intends to respond to these different challenges, from the conditions set for joining the European Union to the building of stable relations amongst states in the region.

Thank you very much for your reply.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:06:49

Mr President, would you like to respond?

Mr Jakov MILATOVIĆ

President of Montenegro

16:06:58

Thank you very much, Ms Marietta KARAMANLI, for your question.

As I already mentioned, and I also in my speech provided a number of facts that have been happening and that are part of the political reality in Montenegro following the political change which happened in 2020, including the strengthening of the judiciary system, which is a precondition and the basis for the further progress of the country towards its European path.

As you rightly said, Montenegro has started its EU accession as a candidate country back in 2009. Montenegro started negotiations with the EU back in 2012.

Now, following 11 years of negotiations, Montenegro is still negotiating.

We are a frontrunner among all the candidate countries.

Everything that I have said, including the strengthening of the judiciary, firstly through the cleaning of the judiciary from some of the people that are, according to the international reports, including the data that we as a country got from Europol, were instead of being a part of the system which is supposed to be fighting organised crime and corruption, were actually part of the organised crime and corruption.

So that was the first step that was taken: to remove some of those people from the system.

I think that the second step which now is being pursued, is to find a political consensus in the Parliament, which according to the Constitution of Montenegro, is asking for the qualified majority of two thirds to be found in the Parliament in order to appoint the new people with integrity at the highest positions in the judiciary system.

That's something that I was already mentioning in my speech. Something which is currently happening in the country with the establishment of the full house of the Constitutional Court, election of the full house within the Judicial Council, the body which is in charge of selecting the judges, and finally, hopefully by the end of this month, election of the new head of the of the state prosecutorial office.

All those things have strengthened the trust of the people or even restored the trust of the people in the judiciary, which has been very weak over the last few decades.

That was the necessary part which was needed to be taken up, particularly related to Chapters 23 and 24 of the EU negotiating process and our cornerstone for everything else.

Technically speaking, and this is now sort of also connected with our European future, once we have made the progress, as I mentioned already, in the issues related to the rule of law, there are a number of chapters that are more economic, more technical, that are currently being ready to be closed. This is something that we as a country are aiming to do in the next few years.

Hoping to do everything which is on our side to be done by the end of 2026, and hopefully to become a fully-fledged member of the European Union by 2028, which would also coincide with the new Budgetary Framework of the European Union.

I must say that if there is one positive thing in the tragedy which is happening following the Russian aggression on Ukraine, is that there was a more clear understanding from Brussels, as well as from a number of other European capitals, that the neighbourhood policy is a crucial policy for European security.

What we are also seeing over the last two years is that accession has become more of a political, as well as, naturally, a technical thing. That's a good thing.

I believe that the European Union also needs a positive story to tell to the other candidate countries and I'm absolutely certain that that positive story indeed can and should be Montenegro.

In that regard, the European Union and all its member states could show to the rest of the candidate countries that the reforms that are sometimes hard, but are being taken in Montenegro, are paying off.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:12:04

Ms Elvira KOVÁCS will ask the next question on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party. 

Ms Elvira KOVÁCS

Serbia, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

16:12:10

Thank you.

[speaks in other language]

Distinguished Mister President, the European Union enlargement is indeed a two-way street but after such a long time it is obvious that the Western Balkans' enthusiasm and spirit were somehow lost and the time passed with insufficient engagement and without a sufficient effect. As you said, and we all know, Montenegro has opened all of the chapters but closed only three. And it seems that a lot of work still awaits. Therefore, not only for Montenegro but overall in the region, one of the important tasks is the renewal of the somehow lost integration enthusiasm. In your opinion, it is good that you spoke about your country but what do you think, what kind of new concept is needed for investing in Balkan countries for the neighbourhood?

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:13:11

Mister President.

Mr Jakov MILATOVIĆ

President of Montenegro

16:13:13

Thank you very much for the question.

I think that you know, as I already said, there is a new momentum in Brussels about the enlargement. That's a positive thing.

I think that it is very much appreciated that the European Commission came with a growth plan for the Western Balkans as presented by Madam President of the European Commission, Ms Ursula von der Leyen, which consisted of four pillars: the first one being the one related to the accession of the region into the single European market; the second one being related to the regional integration of the region itself; the third one being related to the more structural funds that can be put at disposal of the development of the region; and the fourth one which is probably the most crucial one, is everything which is related to the reforms that the region needs to do in order to pursue steps ahead.

I believe that when it comes to the rest of the region, probably the biggest push for the region would be one positive story which is Montenegro.

This is indeed something that I am often saying also to the European leaders.

Sometimes in some of the other countries of the Western Balkans there is sort of a scepticism about the European future, because if you remember the last country which entered the EU was Croatia back in 2013.

So the enlargement didn't happen over the last 11 years already, while in the meantime the United Kingdom also left the European Union.

So I'm absolutely certain that with one positive example - that can indeed be the one of Montenegro - the public confidence about the optimism of the European future of the region can indeed be restored.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:15:22

On behalf of the European Conservatives Group, it is now Mr Zsolt NÉMETH's turn.

Sorry, it is Mr Attila TILKI. He has been informed. 

Mr Attila TILKI

Hungary, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

16:15:37

Mister President,

The Council of Europe will celebrate the 75th anniversary of its foundation this year.

In your view, what political lessons can be drawn from the past of the organisation to be ready to deal with the challenges of the future?

Hungary is one of the strongest supporters of the EU's enlargement policy.

Therefore we are committed to centering the European perspective of the Western Balkans.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:16:15

 Mister President, you have the floor.

Mr Jakov MILATOVIĆ

President of Montenegro

16:16:19

Thank you.

I think that in order to answer that question, one should probably go back to the reasons why the Council of Europe was established back in 1948 and the principles that were about to be pursued by the member states of this institution, including democracy, human rights and the rule of law, have been there for a number of years. But, the crucial lesson that we have all learned is that democratic development is not a one-way street. This has become obvious, particularly following the Russian aggression on Ukraine. Democracy is not a one-way street. It is something that needs to be cherished on a daily basis, where institutions such as the Council of Europe have had – and still have – a great deal of work to do in that regard. And that, in my opinion, is the biggest lesson learned that we have seen over the last few years.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:17:44

Ms Liliana TANGUY on behalf of Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Ms Liliana TANGUY

France, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

16:17:50

Thank you, Mr President.

Your Excellency,

Your country has been a member of the Council of Europe since 2007, and has been negotiating accession to the European Union since 2012. Montenegro has already made significant progress. It is the only candidate country to have opened all negotiation chapters, and is aligned with the European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy. Today, Montenegro is clearly the candidate country closest to accession.

Our political group welcomed the victory of the Liberals in the June 2023 elections, and hopes that the current government coalition will manage to remain solid and united, so as to be able to decisively relaunch the EU accession process.

During 2024, the government will welcome members of the Za budućnost Crne Gore coalition. Under these conditions, can Montenegro maintain the course of reforms in the fields of justice, public administration, the fight against corruption and crime? Are you optimistic about maintaining the country's political unity in 2024, which is a prerequisite for Montenegro's progress towards European Union membership?

Thank you very much.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:19:26

Mr President, would you like to respond?

Mr Jakov MILATOVIĆ

President of Montenegro

16:19:31

It's a very important question.

I think that when I said that the elections in Montenegro are not anymore a question of life and death, but the opportunity for the people to democratically choose, this is indeed what is currently happening in Montenegro, which as you all know here is not really the case in many countries across the globe.

For the first time in our history, which is very long and we are very proud of it, Montenegro has changed its government in the elections of 2020.

Now we already have our third government in place.

Again, to repeat what I believe now has become the focus of a truly vivid democracy which is currently in Montenegro, is institutional stability, because in every democracy, in every free society, governments come and go, and they are the result of a democratic choice of the people at the free elections.

What is, indeed, important are the institutions that are independent and stable enough to push the country ahead with the reforms that are needed. This is, indeed, what we are observing in Montenegro over the last few years and especially following the formation of the current assembly of the Parliament, which has delivered on a number of things that the former assemblies of the Parliament were not able to deliver, including the full house of the Constitutional Court, the full house of the Judicial Council, hopefully, the election of the State Prosecutor, the election of the Central Bank Governor, etc. Those are all the facts that speak for themselves.

In that regard I am optimistic that the country is on a stable and sustainable path towards a speedier convergence, both in terms of the reforms as well as economic standards and the rule of law vis-à-vis the European Union.

My belief is that the country, if we continue in this way, we can complete what is on our side, as I said already, by the end of 2026, leaving 2027 for the ratification of the accession agreement by the parliaments of the member states, so that Montenegro perhaps at one point in 2028 can become a fully fledged member state of the European Union.

To remind you, we are the smallest out of all the candidate countries. Out of a size of 600 000 people, we are the most economically advanced with the standard of living at about 60% of the EU average. We are fully aligning the foreign policy with the EU's. The country has been a NATO member since 2017. The country has been using the Euro since 2001, and the country is the only one which opened all of the negotiating chapters and, hopefully, will be able to close a number of them also in 2024.

So yes, in short, I'm an optimist.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:23:28

On behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left, Mr Marco NICOLINI.

Mr Marco NICOLINI

San Marino, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

16:23:34

Thank you, Mr Chair.

Mr President,

Montenegro's accession process is coming to an end, and almost all the negotiation chapters with the European Union have been open.

It is a very important moment of transition, also for another small European country, the one that I represent here in this Assembly: the Republic of San Marino.

Given that last December, after eight years of negotiation, the executive Vice-President, Maroš Šefčovič, the Foreign Minister of the Republic of San Marino, Luca Beccari, and the Head of Government of the Principality of Andorra, Xavier Espot, officially announced the success of the negotiation aiming at stipulating an association with the European Union.

Your country is much larger than ours, but it is considered a small state in Europe.

What I ask you, Mr President, is to possibly enhance the beliefs that this choice will lead the two small countries to escape from isolation that in the 21st Century no one can stand anymore.

Thank you very much.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:24:50

Mister President.

Mr Jakov MILATOVIĆ

President of Montenegro

16:24:54

Well, I cannot speak on behalf of San Marino but I can, obviously, speak on behalf of Montenegro. The aspiration to join the European family has been the cornerstone of the foreign policy of Montenegro ever since we became independent in 2006.

I truly believe that not only Montenegro's accession into the EU but the accession of the whole region and, perhaps, also of countries such as yours is the way towards a more stable and prosperous European continent. This is what I have already mentioned. This is something that I believe has perhaps been forgotten a bit over the last few years. I think that the wake-up call that happened following the Russian aggression in Ukraine is, indeed, obvious, and this is something that we all need to recognise. 

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:26:05

Thank you, Mister President.

Now we are going to change a little bit the procedure.

Mister President, I would like to ask you to take some notes, because I'm going to give the floor to the first five speakers. You will have the ability to answer to them all afterwards.

The first is Mr Alain MILON.

Mr Alain MILON

France, EPP/CD

16:26:29

Thank you, Mister President.

Mister President of Montenegro,

The census of your country's population on 3 December had a highly political dimension, as the population was invited to declare their community affiliation and mother tongue.

This operation was closely followed, obviously, by Serbia, the Serbian President having declared that this census represented a "vital interest" for Serbia, as the question of learning at school and the official use of the Serbian language could be re-evaluated at the end of this census.

What political and institutional consequences does Montenegro intend to draw from the results of this census?

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:27:18

Thank you.

The second colleague on the list is Ms Boglárka ILLÉS. I hope that I pronounced it well; I'm not sure.

Now we're going to Mr Thomas HASLER.

Mr Thomas HASLER

Liechtenstein, ALDE

16:27:48

Thank you very much, Mister Chairman, for the floor,

I would also like to thank the President, Mr Boris MIJATOVIC, for his remarks.

Free and independent media are essential for the functioning of any democracy. It is therefore critically important not to hinder journalists and media professionals in their work and to protect any action to the contrary. You have already touched on this topic in very general terms today. Could you perhaps explain in a little more detail what measures Montenegro is taking to ensure this?

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:28:28

Next is Ms Arta BILALLI ZENDELI.

Ms Arta BILALLI ZENDELI

North Macedonia, SOC

16:28:38

Thank you, Mister President.

Your Excellency, Mister MILATOVIĆ, we are coming from the same region, with similar history, similar challenges, and hopefully a joint future.

As a young and prosperous politician or leader, what would be your recommendation to other leaders in the Western Balkans, especially to those one who have open questions, who block each other, and who oppose each other?

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:29:09

Thank you.

Next on the list is Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV.

Is Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV here?

No.

It seems like it's Mr Damien COTTIER's lucky day.

Mister Damien COTTIER.

Mr Damien COTTIER

Switzerland, ALDE

16:29:27

Thank you, Mister President.

Mister President,

I'm one of the two co-rapporteurs of the Monitoring Committee of this Assembly on Montenegro.

Your country has been in a post monitoring dialogue since 2015.

I want to congratulate the country for the progress made in the recent weeks or months, because we have been quite impassioned in this Assembly to see progress in the four main topics that the monitoring report was pointing to: the reform of the judicial system, the protection of journalists, the fight against corruption, and the electoral reform.

You have brought good news about some of these issues. Do you see the political will in your country and in the parliament to find the majorities to pursue these efforts? They are really needed for this Assembly in the perspective of its next report on the post monitoring dialogue.

Thank you, Mister President.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:30:24

Thank you.

The last on the list is Ms Andrea EDER-GITSCHTHALER.

Ms Andrea EDER-GITSCHTHALER

Austria, EPP/CD

16:30:33

Thank you very much, Mr President,

My home country, Austria, has always strongly supported your accession to the EU and has tried to help and build bridges - if only because of our shared history. I am therefore pleased that you have reported today that real democratic development has already taken place in the last two years and that you are already very far advanced in meeting the criteria that are economically and politically necessary - such as the rule of law, respect for human rights, respect for and protection of minorities.

Perhaps you could tell us how far you are in fulfilling these criteria and - what is very important to me - what measures are you taking to offer young people good prospects in your country and older people a carefree and good retirement?

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:31:25

Thank you so much.

Mr President, would you like to respond to the questions?

Mr Jakov MILATOVIĆ

President of Montenegro

16:31:35

Yes, thank you very much.

I think that the five questions that I have been asked are very important. Going back to the first one, the question on the census. The last time Montenegro had a census was in 2011 and we were supposed to have one in 2021. However, due to Covid-19, it was postponed for a year or two. From the very beginning, I had a very clear opinion of what the census is, and the census is a statistical question. A statistical question implemented by the statistical office of Montenegro that has the full trust of Eurostat and the full trust of the people in Montenegro of its ability to implement a good census. I do want to say that I am very happy that there was a good result of the dialogue about the census between the current government and the opposition, as a result of which, the census started at the beginning of December. I expect that the census – as in every other country of the world – shows the facts. So whatever the facts are, they should be they should be there as a result of the census. And as a – you know – key statistical report for the country it is absolutely a very crucial starting point for making smarter decisions going forward. I think that the census has been very often portrayed, unnecessarily, by the focus on one or two questions, while some of the other important facts that we are going to get from the census are usually being missed, including understanding how many people Montenegro currently has, how many young people – relating to the question that that one of the MPs asked –  we currently have in Montenegro, what are the opportunities for them to stay in Montenegro, etc. In that regard, my position is very clear.

On the media question, I want to mention four things: number one is that when it comes to the legislation and the legislative framework, I believe that, as in all the other areas, it is being fully aligned with the EU aquis, and in that regard, we have done a good job over the last few years. What we have done also in 2021 or 2022, we have changed the criminal code, in the way that now the profession of journalists have been envisioned to have further legal protection by the criminal code, which was also something praised by the Council of Europe, as well as the European Union.

On media freedom, I would like to report and inform the Parliamentary Assembly that according to the latest Reporters Without Borders report from 2023, media freedom improved in Montenegro, so the country has jumped from 63rd place to 39th, which is a big improvement, reflecting all the legislative as well as institutional changes put in place over the last few years.

There is a challenge when it comes to the unresolved cases that are related to the attacks, even the murder of one journalist in the former years and that is something where I expect now, with all the new people that I have already mentioned being put in place within our judiciary system, that there are going to be some more tangible results for some of the cases that are even now 20 years long.

On the question on the political will to pursue efforts on reforms. I think that everything that I have already mentioned in my speech points towards the fact that there has been a political will. There has been a political will also in the parliament where Montenegro, with the current assembly of the parliament, got to the stage where democracy is understood, not only as a matter of the numbers, which is bigger than something else, but also of the understanding that you need to find a compromise, that you need to you know put yourself in the shoes of the other party.

As I already mentioned several times here, we are seeing some of the deliveries over the last few months that we have not been able to deliver as a society to the parliament over the last four or five years. So, as a conclusion, yes, there is definitely a political will and I believe that there is a political will, both from the position, as well as from parts of the opposition in the current assembly of the parliament.

On the young people and their perspective on staying in Montenegro, there are two factors that are predominantly determining the choice of young people to stay or to leave. Meritocracy, in terms of entering the labour market, and this is something that definitely needs to be further strengthened, both when it comes to the public administration as well as the state on enterprises, in order to make sure that the best of the people stay in the country by taking the jobs for which they are qualified and educated. And the second is the salaries. I have already mentioned in my speech some of the economic reforms that have been put in place, including the fiscal reforms, the reforms in the labour market that have led to the increase of the minimum wage, to the increase of the average salaries, and which is obviously also helping young people have higher incentives to stay in Montenegro. And I think strengthening those two aspects – meritocracy as well as economic growth – is the way forward.

And ultimately, answering the question from the colleague from North Macedonia on the advice. Everything that I have spoken about today in front of the Parliamentary Assembly is the advice that I have for the rest of the region. I think that, ultimately, the region needs to strive towards a speedier accession towards the EU, and the way to do that is to speed up the reforms. Montenegro is doing it, and I am very much hopeful that the other countries in the region are also doing it. I think that the stability of the Balkans and the prosperity of the Balkans are in the European Union.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:40:10

Mr President of Montenegro, it was an honour to have you here and listen to your wise advice.

That brings us to the end of the questions of our esteemed colleagues.

On behalf of the Assembly, I want to thank you most warmingly for your address and for the answers given to the questions.

Thank you so much.

 

Dear colleagues,

I want to remind you that voting is open for the election of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and three judges to the European Court of Human Rights in respect of Bulgaria, Lithuania and Luxemburg.

The votes will close at 6 p.m.

I invite those of you who have not yet voted to do so.

Debate: Recent developments in the Middle East: Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel and Israel’s response

Ms Tamara VONTA

Slovenia, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:42:53

Dear colleagues,

The next item or the agenda is the debate on the report titled "Debate: Recent developments in the Middle East: Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel and Israel’s response", presented by Mr Piero FASSINO on behalf of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy.

In order to finish by 6:45 p.m., I will interrupt the list of speakers at about 6:00 p.m. to allow time for the reply and vote on the draft resolution.

I call Mr Piero FASSINO, rapporteur. You have 7 minutes now and 3 minutes at the end to reply to the debate.

The floor is yours, Mister Piero FASSINO.

Mr Piero FASSINO

Italy, SOC, Rapporteur

16:43:44

Thank you, Mister President.

Given the sensitivity of the subject I will speak in Italian.

For 100 days the world has been watching with anguish the very serious crisis that hit the Middle East on 7 October.

A crisis triggered by Hamas, which on 7 October invaded the Israeli territories bordering the Gaza Strip, exterminating entire families, slaughtering young people attending a concert, ravaging kibbutzim, viciously raping young girls and mothers of families, and kidnapping and deporting more than 200 people, 130 of whom are still Hamas hostages.

I would first of all like to express our solidarity with the families of the victims and hostages. A massacre that cannot be justified in any way. Nor can it be justified by invoking the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the current status of which, it should be remembered, was defined by the agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority.

In the face of the massacre, Israel responded by entering the Gaza Strip with military action, with massive aerial bombardment and ground fighting aimed at the dual objective of freeing the hostages and destroying Hamas facilities. This intervention has caused continuous displacement of the more than 2 million Gaza residents who live in a very precarious condition, in emergency tent cities, with insufficient food aid, with inadequate health facilities.

It has struck world opinion that there are more than 25 000 casualties, including many women, children, the elderly. A number that part of the international community considers disproportionate.

Although it should be remembered that Hamas's strategy of turning the Gaza territory into a military base, building underground a gigantic network of tunnels and galleries under schools, hospitals, mosques, offices, and homes, contributed to that high number of casualties.

These 100 days have seen fragile and brief truces that have allowed for exchanges between hostages and Palestinian detainees.

However, this has not reduced the bitterness of the war, which, indeed, knows the risk of widening.

With the initiatives of Hezbollah on the Israeli-Lebanese border, with the firing of missiles by the Yemeni Houthis, and with the direction of the regime in Tehran.

At this time the International Court of Justice, at the initiative of South Africa, opened a case against Israel accused of the crime of genocide. A charge dismissed by Israel. It appears curious, to say the least, that no investigation to date has been opened into the Hamas massacres.

In the face of this critical picture, a strong international initiative has developed to free the hostages, stop the weapons and pave the way for a political solution.

Particularly active has been the United States with direct engagement by President Biden and an ongoing presence in the region by Secretary of State Blinken.

The United Nations and its secretary-general have repeatedly urged the easing of military hostilities, the release of hostages and the facilitation of the delivery of humanitarian aid. The Security Council adopted, not without travail, a resolution in this direction. The European Union has also taken action to help overcome the crisis by proposing the convening of an international peace conference.

Despite all this, the war continues. The search for a political solution must be accelerated, a goal that our Assembly must also pursue.

First, there must be the release of the hostages, which is being clamoured for by the families and a growing Israeli public as seen again in the large demonstrations in recent days.

Second, there must be a cease-fire soon, at least a temporary one, that facilitates the release of the hostages, allows the Palestinians to return to their homes, facilitates the delivery of needed humanitarian and medical aid, and allow the possibility of reopening the path to the 2 peoples/2 states solution to be verified.

This solution seems the only possible one because two rights live in that land: the right of Israel to live securely and recognised by its neighbours and the right of the Palestinians to have a homeland. Rights that are both legitimate and must both be recognised. This solution, however, is not without obstacles.

Prime Minister Nethanyahu has repeatedly reiterated his opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state. Instead, negotiating an agreement requires Israeli leadership willing to do so. The PNA is weak and undermined by divisions, and a renewal of leadership is needed on this front as well.

The issue of who, at least transitory, is to run Gaza remains unresolved. In any case in the face of an agreement between Israel and the PNA, it is predictable that Hamas would continue its activities pursuing the destruction of Israel and calling as it does daily for "one Palestine from Jerusalem to the sea."

Also contributing to this critical picture in the West Bank is the aggressive and violent activity of groups of in settlers toward Palestinian villages. Activities that we call on the Israeli authorities to firmly counter. Finally, the emotion aroused by the many victims of the war has led to demonstrations against Israel, often with anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish slogans. These are unacceptable attitudes that must be countered with great firmness, well aware of how many tragedies anti-Semitism has caused in European and world history. Just as manifestations of Islamophobia must be countered, avoiding the mistake of equating Palestinians with Hamas.

In conclusion, dear colleagues, a strong international initiative is needed to stop the war, obtain the release of the hostages, return Gaza to civilian life and pave the way for a political solution.

Our Assembly is also called upon to play its part, intensifying co-operation with the Knesset and the Palestinian Legislative Council and especially promoting co-operation between them.

I thank you for your attention and urge you to support the Resolution we submitted on behalf of the Policy Committee.

 

Thank you.

Ms Tamara VONTA

Slovenia, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:50:26

Thank you, Mister FASSINO.

In the debate I call first Mr Pablo HISPÁN on behalf of the EPP.

The floor is yours. Three minutes.

Mr Pablo HISPÁN

Spain, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

16:50:40

Thank you, Madam President.

The terrorist attacks by Hamas on 7 October against the people of Israel has been one of the most horrendous aggressions against the peace that humanity has suffered in the last two decades.

In addition, for the hundreds of victims who were killed today, while we are speaking, there are hundreds of innocents who are still a hostage of Hamas. The terrorists knew what they were doing, they knew the damage they were going to cause to the people of Israel, but they also knew the consequences that these actions would have for the people of Palestine.

They committed terrible crimes knowing the enormous suffering that they would cause to their own people in Gaza and to Israel.

Today we know the death of more than 20 Israeli soldiers.

There is no one more responsible for what is happening in Gaza today than Hamas and its supporters. Its stated purpose is annihilation of the state of Israel and the murder of Jewish people at any cost, also in Palestinians' lives.

Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come. We are currently watching an escalation of violence never seen before in the Middle East. An escalation which Russia is taking advantage of by instigating a division of Western democracies' commitment with the defence and integrity of Ukraine.

However, this escalation requires for an external collaboration: Iran, whose military actions deeply destabilise the region.

On the other hand, another of the essential freedoms necessary for the development of our way of living, which also defines our Western values, is the freedom of the seas which also is being attacked by Houthi terrorists.

We are facing a turning point in history, and the decisions we make today are going to determine the future of years to come.

Therefore, my group supports Mr Piero FASSINO's report. Not only because it strongly condemns the attack against the state of Israel, but also because it demands the release of the hostages and calls for aid for the Palestinian people. There will be no solid solution and lasting peace in the Middle East, if the Middle East countries do not recognise Israel as a state.

Let's all condemn the attack against Israel, let's condemn the anti-Semitism that has risen in Europe, especially in the left, and let's condemn all those who support and legitimise or justify the terrorists attacks by Hamas as do member of Spanish government.

This would be the best plan to achieve peace in the Middle East and for the Palestinian people to finally live among international recognised borders.

This future state must be a consequence of a peace process, never a reward of a terrorist attack or an excuse to damage on the people of Israel, a people who should only be seen as victims, as well as all the Palestinians who condemn Hamas' terrorist actions.

Thank you, Mister FASSINO, for your work experience that you have put in play in this report.

Thank you.

Ms Tamara VONTA

Slovenia, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:53:30

Thank you. I give the floor to Lord David BLENCATHRA, on behalf of the European Conservatives Group.

The floor is yours.

Lord David BLENCATHRA

United Kingdom, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

16:53:40

Madam President,

I congratulate the rapporteur Mr Piero FASSINO on a very well balanced and excellent report.

It is so right to denounce the absolute horror of the massacre of the 1 200 civilian innocents.

It was the most evil and bloodthirsty crime in living memory, and no one with a shred of decency can justify t.

The report rightly calls the killings barbaric and the worst genocide of Jews since the second world war.

The Israeli response has been proportionate in the face of rape and killing of their sons, daughters, and children.

The rules of war are clear. Where the enemy hide themselves in hospitals and civilian houses, then unfortunately those civilian structures are liable to be attacked. The blame for civilian casualties in Gaza lies solely with Hamas and not Israel.

Hamas started this war by attacking innocent Israelis from civilian areas in Gaza and military tunnels under hospitals packed full with guns and rockets.

Inevitably, Gaza civilians will be killed as Israel defends itself, which it has the right to do.

We need to be sceptical about the Hamas terrorist ministry of health figures for civilian casualties, which may be grossly exaggerated.

Of course about 12 000 of these so-called civilians are actually Hamas terrorists themselves.

Mr Piero FASSINO calls for the release of hostages, which is essential and for a ceasefire.

However, we need to be absolutely clear that the hostages must be released first, and then a ceasefire is possible.

There must be no ceasefire which will give Hamas more time to rearm and renew their evil attacks.

So, I do understand Israel wanting to neutralise the terrorist attacks before letting their guns go silent, which we all want to see.

Mr Piero FASSINO also comments on the fact that some countries have banned pro-Palestinian demonstrations and suggests a need to keep legitimate freedom of speech and protest. However, I am appalled to see in my country, the United Kingdom, demonstrations calling for the destruction of Israel and the de facto extermination of Jews and a new Holocaust.

The chant "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" can only mean free of Jews and no Israel.

I call on the United Kingdom police forces to arrest and charge all those chanting that, and with placards showing Israel been pushed into the sea. Most of the demonstrations I see in my country are to destroy Israel rather than save Gaza.

It was instructive that the 3 000 Hamas terrorists who massacred Israelis were shouted "Allah hu Akbar" and not "Free Palestine".

Colleagues,

Let us bear in mind that Israel is the only genuinely democratic country in the region.

It is under attack from all sides. Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Yemen, and these terrorist organisations are also getting funding from other Arab countries in the region.

Some 80 years ago there was an attempt to exterminate all Jews. We must ensure that a different enemy does not succeed this time.

Thank you.

Ms Tamara VONTA

Slovenia, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:56:43

Thank you.

In the debate, I call next Ms Mireille CLAPOT, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Ms Mireille CLAPOT

France, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

16:56:58

Madam Chairman,

Mr Rapporteur, dear Piero FASSINO,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Since October 7, a cycle of extreme violence has been unleashed in Israel and Palestine. Hamas has committed acts of terrorism against Israel, carrying out heinous and barbaric attacks against civilians, killing and taking hostage people of all ages, Israelis and non-Israelis alike, committing sexual violence and causing 1,200 deaths. These acts must be strongly condemned and not go unpunished.

More than a hundred hostages are still in the hands of Hamas: they must be released without delay. This is a prerequisite for any settlement of the conflict and for calming the situation in the region.

In the face of this terrorist attack, Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas, but in compliance with international humanitarian law. The Palestinian population must not be confused with Hamas. On the contrary, they are also its victims, and have unfortunately become its human shield. Israel cannot shirk its obligations to protect Palestinian civilians and humanitarians: this is the honour of democracies and states governed by the rule of law.

Yet Israel's response and escalating violence are systematically and indiscriminately targeting the Palestinian population. The siege of the Gaza Strip, which is blocking the delivery of water, food, energy and medicines, is an unspeakable humanitarian tragedy. Humanitarian needs are at an all-time high.

In addition to this blockade, there is the incessant bombardment of both the north and south of the Gaza Strip. Any bombardment of infrastructure or civilian populations is a violation of international law. Sadly, the death toll in Gaza is estimated at over 24,000.

In the face of this, our position must be clear and understood by all, first and foremost Israel: the fight against terrorism is legitimate, but collective and indiscriminate punishment of the Palestinian civilian population cannot be.

This is also true in the West Bank, where violence by Israeli settlers is on the increase, particularly against Gazan workers.

We cannot accept double standards in the protection of civilians and humanitarian law: every Palestinian and Israeli life counts. Our voice, that of the Council of Europe, that of the European nations we represent, is awaited. Through this resolution, we must call for an immediate halt to hostilities, a ceasefire and permanent humanitarian access.

We must also continue to work with our partners in the Knesset and the Palestinian National Council to promote, through parliamentary diplomacy, cooperation between each people and the protection of their rights as recognized by international instruments. This work is necessary to lay the foundations for dialogue between the various parties involved, and ultimately to create the conditions for negotiation and the establishment of a two-state solution.

This prospect must remain on the horizon for the international community, and for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, so that they can live in peace while respecting their right to self-determination, security and freedom.

Ms Tamara VONTA

Slovenia, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:00:13

Thank you very much.

I give the floor to Mr Paul GAVAN on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.

Mr Paul GAVAN

Ireland, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

17:00:25

Thank you, Madam President.

On behalf of the Group of the United European Left I want to express our profound concern at much of the content of this report.

We of course condemn the actions of Hamas and we insist on the release of all hostages on all sides, but the resolution as currently framed simply does not reflect the horrors of what is happening in occupied Palestine.

According to the United Nations, in the first 100 days, Israel's military offensive has resulted in the loss of over 23 000 lives, 75% estimated to be women and children, with more than 7 000 more missing under the rubble.

More than 53 000 wounded, over 1 000 children suffering amputations. Many of those amputations carried out without anaesthetic.

The displacement of over 85% of the population, amounting to 1.9 million civilians.

The deliberate massive destruction of Gaza in terms of all of its infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, places of worship, and refugee camps.

The lack of water and food leading to starvation even as we debate this today.

And then there is the language used by the leaders of the Israeli Government. In October, President Herzog said: "It's an entire nation out there that is responsible. We will fight until we break their backbone." The Minister of Defence declared: "Gaza won't return to what it was before. We will eliminate everything." Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, Nissim Vaturi, stated: "Now we all have one common goal, erasing the Gaza strip from the face of the earth.

In the words of the great Jewish writer, Gideon Levy, if all of this does not constitute genocide, then what is it? How do we describe it?

At the very least, it constitutes collective punishment of the Palestinian people, which is in itself a war crime.

The report in its current form has no direct condemnation of Israel, and I have to ask how can this be.

11 000 children have been slaughtered in 11 weeks by Israeli occupying forces. Are we really not willing to condemn this? What kind of human rights body would choose to ignore this?

The most important call that any of us can make is to call for a permanent and unconditional ceasefire.

In this regard, I want to recognise the work of our colleague Ms Sevim DAĞDELEN, who was a co-founder of Parliamentarians for a Ceasefire, which now constitutes more than 500 parliamentarians across 30 countries.

We all have a duty to make this demand now, and there must be accountability, not only for the murderous actions of the apartheid Israeli State, but also for the enablers of genocide, those states that supply the weapons and bombs to allow it to happen.

In this regard, I want to call out in particular the actions of the British Conservative government.

To conclude, we need an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, we need an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine, and we need justice for the Palestinian people.

Ms Tamara VONTA

Slovenia, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:03:28

Thank you.

In the debate I call next Mr Frank SCHWABE, on behalf of the Socialist Group.

Mr Frank SCHWABE

Germany, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

17:03:40

Madam President,

First of all, I would like to thank Mr Piero FASSINO warmly for producing this report and for taking on this difficult task in this difficult geopolitical situation, perhaps the most difficult in the world because, of course, you can put yourself in both sides' shoes, for taking on this report.

This morning I read an interview with Ehud Olmert, the former Prime Minister of Israel, I can only highly recommend it; it's an interview worth reading, which makes it clear that you can support Israel's right to exist with all your might, very fundamentally and very practically, and at the same time disagree with the policies of the current Israeli government.

We are talking about a very fundamental conflict that has not been resolved for years, decades. We see what can happen when such a conflict has not been resolved for years and decades. We are talking about different perspectives on this conflict. I have to say that these different perspectives are also reflected in my group. What we do agree on is that the attack on Israel by the terrorist organisation Hamas on 7 October is an inconceivable criminal act and that we demand the immediate release of all hostages. However, we also agree that we are dealing with a dramatic humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip that is causing people to suffer terribly, women, men, children, with heartbreaking images.

There can be no shared sympathy. There is no difference in the suffering of innocent people. I also have the description in my mind of the relatives of the hostages I met, what unspeakable suffering they describe on the Israeli side. We stand by Israel's right to exist, a state in which Jews can live in safety, a democratic state, by the way, in which the government can also be criticised and democratically voted out of office. We stand resolutely against any form of anti-Semitism, which is disgustingly spreading again in Europe. We are also opposed to all forms of anti-Muslim sentiment, which is also currently on the rise again and where some people who are otherwise not on the side of Israel and the Jews are suddenly discovering that Muslims are to blame. We continue to see rocket fire on Israel, with tens of thousands of people affected. We see the suffering of traumatised families in Israel as well, and we once again demand the release of all hostages.

However, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is catastrophic. It is a violation of the dictates of humanity that so little help reaches the people. The reports about the suffering of the people, especially the children, are unbearable. Israel must do everything it can to make more humanitarian aid possible. A ceasefire is necessary for effective humanitarian aid. In the end, a terrorist organisation cannot be defeated by military means, however understandable it is that they are used. A two-state solution is needed, however far away it may be. We need a secure future for Jews, but also for Palestinians.

This organisation must not overestimate what we can do. We have friendly relations with Israelis and Palestinians. We will not be able to resolve the conflict. What we can offer is a place for dialogue. I have learned in this debate that in the past, delegations from Israel and Palestine were often present here and took part in discussions. I hope and offer that we can do this and maintain this place of dialogue here.

Many thanks again to Mr Piero FASSINO.

Ms Tamara VONTA

Slovenia, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:07:33

Thank you very much, Mister SCHWABE.

We will proceed now with Ms Meirav BEN ARI from Israel.

The floor is yours.

Ms Meirav BEN ARI

Israel

17:07:46

Thank you, Madam President.

On the morning of 7 October, which fell on a Jewish holiday, thousands of Hamas and other terrorists breached Israeli sovereign territory by air, land, and sea.

They invaded over 20 Israeli communities, army bases, and the site of a music festival with over 3 000 young people celebrating life and love.

What proceeded under the cover of thousands of rockets fired indiscriminately into Israel was the massacre, mutilation, rape, and abduction of over 260 citizen into Gaza.

The terrorists grabbed whatever they could find and then went on to shoot, rape, torture and kidnap innocent people.

In the Kibbutzim, children were tortured in front of their parents, and parents in front of their children. Babies and elderly, men and women were burned alive inside their homes. Over 1 200 people were butchered that day, and more than 5 500 were severely injured.

The savagery of 7 October was documented by the terrorists themselves, through body cams attached to their bodies.

In addition, forensic evidence taken at the scene confirmed that Hamas terrorists committed acts of sexual abuse. We also know it because they proudly filmed it and broadcast their barbarism.

This was the deadliest attack against the Jewish people in a single day since the Holocaust.

We were attacked simply for being Jewish living in Israel.

Johnny Siman Tov, a wheat farmer and his wife Tamar, a peace activist, lived in Kibbutz Nir Oz. When the rocket fire started, they hid in the safe room with their three young children. During the rampage, Hamas terrorists set their house on fire. Johnny texted to his sister Ranae, "They are here, they are burning us." The whole family was burned alive to ashes, making it difficult to recognise them. There was nothing left.

A female survivor of the Nova music festival massacre testified to police that she witnessed a Hamas terrorist brutally raping a young woman as another cut off her breast and toyed with it. She was finally shot in the head by a third one.

In a recording, a Hamas terrorist is heard joyfully calling his parents from Kibbutz Mefalsim and I quote, "Open my WhatsApp." He continues, "Look how many Jews I kill with my own hand, maybe 10 or more. Your son killed Jews. I'm talking to you from a Jewish woman's phone. I killed her and I killed her husband. Dead. Ten with my own hands" he shouts with glee "Mama, your son is a hero" he says.

His mother replies, "Oh, my son, I wish I could be there with you and join you."

I wish I had the time to discuss the countless atrocities that took place on that day.

Hamas' leaders are outspoken about their ideology. One of their political leaders even said, "We need to cleanse Palestine from the filth of the Jews." It was expressed chillingly.

In the words of senior Hamas member Gazi Hamad to Lebanese television on 24 October using the Hamas term for the 7 October attack, the Al-Aqsa Flood, he says, "This is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, and a fourth". Later in this interview, Hamad is asked "Does that mean the annihilation of Israel?"

[She is interrupted by the Chair because her speech is too long]

No democratic state in the world will understand the situation. We are the children, the elderly, 135 people still in Gaza in a tunnel without water in the darkness shouting for your help. Be in the right side of history, stand with Israel.

Thank you.

Ms Tamara VONTA

Slovenia, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:13:59

Thank you very much.

In the debate I call next Mr Mohammed HEGAZI.

The floor is yours.

Mr Mohammed HEGAZI

Palestine

17:14:17

Thank you, Madam President.

More than a hundred days of war, massacre, terror, and destruction continue to ruin the lives of the people of Gaza. On behalf of the Palestinian National Council and on behalf of the Palestinian Parliament, we condemn attacks on civilians, both on the Israeli and the Palestinian side. The attack on thousands of innocent civilians in Gaza is unjust and cruel. The war against people in Gaza incites hatred and severely hampers the peace process. It is imperative to enforce a ceasefire, find appropriate solutions and immediately start rescuing the residents of Gaza who are now threatened by epidemics, famine, and death.

We have 25 000 dead so far. We have 7 000 women, 10 000 children, 120 journalists, 4 000 sick people dying for lack of medicine, more than 60 000 others injured and wounded. Some 8 000 people are missing. Under the building, rubble, 1 million residents were displaced. In the West Bank, since 7 October, 6 195 people are arrested in Israeli jail. There are also 50 journalists arrested in the West Bank, 560 deaths, 111 children, many of them women. So, Gaza is uninhabitable. The West Bank has already been swallowed up by Israeli settlements.

Where is the state? We have always heard two states, one State of Palestine, one State of Israel. Okay, Israel is here, but where is the State of Palestine? The West Bank has been swallowed up by settlements, and the Gaza Strip has already been bombed and destroyed; it no longer exists. Jerusalem is, anyway. They always say it's the capital of Israel. We didn't expect that from the world and democracy and freedom with these people who have been fighting their countries for 75 years to have our country with peace processes. That was the last Oslo agreement, as always opposed by Prime Minister Netanyahu, although it was accepted before. We also hold together well. As Palestinians, we were never against Jews as a religion. We had lived together before, and we accepted that.

We are against occupation. That's all. Where is our land? It's all been swallowed up.

Long live freedom, long live democracy, long live justice, and human rights and justice too.

Where are human rights? Where are children's rights? Where are women's rights in Palestine? That is what we would like to know.

Thank you very much.

Ms Tamara VONTA

Slovenia, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:19:10

Thank you.

Thank you, Mr Mohammed HEGAZI.

We will proceed with Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN, from Romania.

Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group.

The floor is yours.

Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN

Romania, SOC

17:19:24

Colleagues, from the beginning I will say that I will support the adoption of the Report and the draft Resolution.

In the current complicated context I can appreciate the hard work of the rapporteur for a balanced and fair Report.

A few concrete elements. October 7 first of all, and the horrible crimes committed by the Hamas terrorists. This was the first episode, and some people try to forget this important fact. I strongly condemn the killing of the innocent people. Killing people, killing Israelis, because they are Jews, this is more than terrorism, this is Nazism.

The same terrorist that killed also on October 7 Romanian nationals living in Israel and kidnapping Romanian nationals with double citizenship. But also the same terrorists from Hamas that blocked, using weapons, and threatening Romanian nationals, especially women and their Palestinian husbands, and the mixed families and the children in Gaza when they tried to get out from the northern part of Gaza.

The dramatic situation of the hostages. I also want to ask the immediate release starting with the babies. The right of self defence of Israel based on the UN Charter.

I want to mention the fact that only Putin, and only people with radical attitudes can deny this UN Charter Fundamental Right.

A clear distinction between the Palestinian people and the Palestinian legitimate cause for a state, and Hamas.

Always, for some of us, the National Palestinian Authority, and for some of us, our comrades from Fatah within the Socialist International, have been considered our partners bilaterally, but also for the peace process. We recognised Romania in 1988, bilaterally, Palestine, and a full-fledged Palestinian ambassador is functioning starting from 1989 in Bucharest. We all the time cooperated with our Palestinian partners.

The horrible humanitarian crisis in Gaza. I want to be clear, every life of innocent people which is lost in Gaza, in West Bank, but also in Israel, is a huge loss. It's a drama for humankind.

But here, I want to make two comments.

First, the humanitarian aid, which is a must, and also my country contributed substantially and will contribute once again in the near future. But we don't want Hamas to distribute and to profit. The humanitarian aid is for the Palestinian people, not for the terrorists.

Secondly, an immediate ceasefire will have no meaning without dismantling Hamas' military capabilities and those of some other terrorist organisations.

I want to put a rhetorical question, maybe.

How to avoid innocent human life losses when Hamas is using as humans shields its own people?

I condemn also the profound negative role of Iran, but also of Russia, in the region.

I also condemned the dangerous rising of antisemitism once again in Europe.

On the peace process, which is the only choice, a sustainable peace process for a two-state solution that we support, can be facilitated by relaunching the normalisation process between Israel and some other Arab countries, and with Saudi Arabia this is essential.

But don't forget that the moment of Hamas' attack inspired by Iran came exactly for blocking directly the process between Israel and Saudi Arabia. That could have facilitated the relaunching of a real peace process. So it was against the interest of its own Palestinian people. It's important, and this should be a priority to avoid the escalation in the region.

Last but not least, let's use in the future today's complicated Council of Europe and PACE platform for political dialogue, especially the Special Subcommittee on the Middle East. In the future, there will be once again the need for bridges of communication and dialogue, not for extreme attitudes which will not help at all.

So I will support the adoption of the Report and the Resolution.

Thank you.

Ms Tamara VONTA

Slovenia, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:23:36

Thank you very much.

The next speaker is Mr Alain MILON from France.

Mister MILON, the floor is yours [in French].

Mr Alain MILON

France, EPP/CD

17:23:45

Thank you, Madam President.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

While thanking our colleague Mr Piero FASSINO for the quality of his report and analysis, I would like to reiterate how shocked we were by the terrorist attack carried out by Hamas against Israel on 7 October. The barbaric acts committed are unbearable, and my thoughts go out in particular to the hostages still being held by Hamas, some of whom are dual nationals. Their immediate and unconditional release is obviously necessary.

The President of the French Senate went to Israel and Palestine at the end of December, with all the presidents of the Senate's political groups, to show our solidarity and try to contribute to dialogue with a view to finding the path to peace.

Israel obviously has the right to defend itself and to retaliate in the face of an existential attack, the very purpose of which is its eradication. We fully understand the emotion of the Israeli people and the mobilisation of the government in the face of these attacks; but we cannot remain deaf and blind in the face of the destruction and death toll in Gaza. The weight of innocent lives is the same, whether you are Israeli or Palestinian.

It is one thing for Israel to fight the Hamas fighters with fierce determination; it is quite another for so many civilians to be killed in order to reach them. The report by our colleague Piero FASSINO mentions almost 24,000 dead and over 60,000 wounded on the Palestinian side, as well as the internal displacement of 85% of Gaza's population. The question of the proportionality of Israel's response is clearly raised.

War is always ugly, but it must not distract us from our humanity.

I support the call for an immediate and extended ceasefire to allow full, rapid, safe and unhindered access to the people of Gaza. The lack of shelter, food, water, medicine and medical care is having dramatic consequences. This situation cannot be allowed to continue. I hope that this resolution will help to change the Israeli government's position, otherwise it runs the risk of seeing the public opinion of its allies turn against Israel.

I would add that, despite the difficulties and urgency of the moment, the Israeli government's overriding responsibility is to look ahead and prepare the conditions for long-term peace and security. This is essential for Israel's future, and I believe it will necessarily involve the recognition of two states.

Thank you for your kind words.

Ms Tamara VONTA

Slovenia, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:26:29

Thank you [in French].

I call next Mr Markus WIECHEL from Sweden. The microphone, please. Thank you.

Mr Markus WIECHEL

Sweden, EC/DA

17:26:49

Thank you, Madam President,

Our rapporteur Mr Piero FASSINO and the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy are to be commended on the concise Report they have prepared on recent developments in the Middle East with a focus on the war between the Hamas terrorist group and the state of Israel.

I agree fully with the Report's analysis of recent developments, such as Hamas' deceitful attack on 7 October in breach of the official ceasefire then enforced and the subsequent brutal slaughter of over a thousand Israeli civilians. Israel's response to annihilate the Hamas forces in the streets and tunnels in Gaza is not just only understandable but also fully justified. One of the core obligations of a country is to defend its citizens when attacked. With this in mind, it is important to minimise the number of civilian casualties, which have now reached alarmingly high levels. It is worth remembering that the responsibility for the tragedy we now witness primarily lies with a Palestinian terrorist. Clearly, Hamas and its like-minded partners completely ignore the security and wellbeing of its population. We all need to do what we can to change this for the sake of all innocent civilians who now suffer.

Dear colleagues, the war in Gaza goes on and it is likely to do so for at least weeks to come. This conflict does not only affect Gaza but also the rest of the world. As an example of how this conflict might expand even further, we see how the related missile attacks by the Iran-backed Houthis in northern Yemen are threatening world trade and world peace. 

In conclusion, I want to stress the importance that each and every one of us do our utmost to support a peaceful development in this region. The one key to do so is for Hamas to put down their arms, free the hostages and surrender. If it was not for these terrorists, there would be no war and there would be no casualties. Hamas chose to start a vicious war. They have the power to end it for the good of their own people.

Thank you, Madam President.

Ms Tamara VONTA

Slovenia, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:29:10

Thank you very much.

Our next speaker is Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN from Ireland for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. The floor is yours. 

Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN

Ireland, ALDE

17:29:21

Thank you, Chair.

When I was a young girl, one of the first books that I have a very strong memory of and left a lasting impact on me was Anne Frank's diary. I could not understand or comprehend such cruelty, such a horrific example of man's inhumanity to man. Years later, I visited Dachau, Auschwitz and Belsen, and again, I was horrified as to what happened. It was explained by everybody I knew by people saying, "we didn't know", "the world didn't know what was happening", "we're ashamed and we are embarrassed now".

Years later, I spent time in a kibbutz close to the Gaza border and met survivors of the Holocaust and I apologised to them and said to them, "the world didn't know, we didn't know what was happening". "Lest we forget" is something that we hear every single year and here in the Council of Europe, we commemorate the Holocaust and we say that: "Lest we forget". Basically saying on our watch, nothing like this will ever happen again. But it is happening. It is happening in Gaza. Gaza is a Holocaust by another name. This time we cannot say we did not know. Every time we open our newspapers, our phones, our television screens, we are bearing witness to the absolute slaughter that is happening in Palestine.

What Hamas did on 7 October was barbaric, appalling, horrific, and I utterly condemn their actions. But as Gandhi said, "an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind". And in three months, 25 000 Palestinians have been killed, 75% of these women and children, 85% of people displaced, 7 000 missing and 7 000 injured. There is a lack of clean water, inadequate sanitation, collapse of the whole health system causing a public health disaster.

We are a human rights organisation with a moral and legal obligation to protect human rights. We should be shouting with our loudest voice and with all of our might. Children, by virtue of accident of their birth, are being denied the most fundamental human right of all: the right to life. Their mothers, if they get a space in a hospital bed, have to leave after one hour because there is such a shortage of beds. We must fight with every fibre of our being for an immediate ceasefire, to step up humanitarian aid and to start on a two-state solution. I stand with all of the victims, and I particularly stand with Palestine.

Just one final point that I would like to make. This is the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world that we are dealing with and I think it is regrettable that we only have a two-hour slot here during our plenary. I understand from my colleague, deputy Mr Robert TROY, who is a member of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy that many more wish to speak on this and many amendments that would have strengthened this Resolution were voted down. We need more time and we need to support those innocent victims in Palestine.

Ms Tamara VONTA

Slovenia, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:32:58

Thank you.

I give the floor to Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN.

Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group, from Finland.

You have the floor.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC

17:33:06

Madam President, I am more than pleased that I can follow Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN for her excellent presentation but, unfortunately, I am not one hundred per cent sure where I am from listening to some of the statements today. We are supposed to be the leading human rights organisation of Europe, actually, in the whole world.

We have said so many times that human rights are universal and we defend human rights everywhere. War crimes are war crimes, there are no excuses when war crimes are committed. Crime against humanity, we condemn that everywhere, irrespective of who does it. It is true that on 7 October last year, Israeli people met brutal aggression by Hamas. We condemn that as an act of terror, no question about it. It is very clear that we demand the release of all hostages. Israel does have the right to defend its people in their homeland, but Madam Chair, we can ask Palestinians where their homeland is.

In 1948, 80% of Palestinian people were deported from their homelands and they have not since had the right to return back to their homes. Since that period, we have seen retaliation after retaliation, aggression after aggression. In Finland, we have a saying, make revenge, dig two graves. Gaza today, US President Biden has accused the Israeli army of using indiscriminate bombing, the UN Secretary General António Guterres condemned heart-breaking and utterly unacceptable killings of civilians in Gaza, quote "Israel's military operations have spread mass destruction and killed civilians on a scale unprecedented during my time as the Secretary-General of the United Nations". That was a statement by Guterres.

Some are saying that this intense bloodshed in 100 days in Gaza today is the biggest mass civilian killing since the Second World War in the whole of mankind. Accusations that we have heard today, Hamas terrorists use humans as a shield. If that is the case, then we condemn it. But remember friends, I have read the history of the world, freedom fighters hide among people everywhere. Why? Because they represent the people.

Thank you.

Ms Tamara VONTA

Slovenia, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:36:23

Thank you, Mister KILJUNEN.

And I give the word to Mr Reinhold LOPATKA from Austria.

Mr Reinhold LOPATKA

Austria, EPP/CD

17:36:33

Dear President, dear colleagues,

On 7 October, which coincided with a Jewish holiday, thousands of armed Hamas terrorists invaded Israel through the land, the air, and the sea. Simultaneously, Hamas terrorists fired thousands of rockets from Gaza towards Israeli civilian territory across the entire country.

They broke into civilian homes and carried out a series of murderous atrocities and barbaric attacks. And over 1 200 civilians were murdered on this day, and over 200 were abducted and more than 130 are still being held hostage, also an Austrian citizen.

Yes, politics is driven on compromise, but there are fundamental questions where a compromise is not possible.

There cannot be a compromise with terrorists, with enemies of our open society, with enemies of democracy. They must be fought uncompromisingly in order to prevent another 7 October, a day with burned babies and beheaded people.

It can only mean for me: zero tolerance with intolerant, zero tolerance with terrorists.

They hate Jews. Not only in Israel. They hate Jews worldwide. And they hate our open and free society.

So, for me also these 1,7 million displaced civilians in Gaza are victims of Hamas.

And it is their right of self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter that Israel has to defend its people, of course in accordance with international humanitarian law.

And I think we have to do everything of course that the humanitarian situation in Gaza gives the people the possibility to receive aid. And there is need in the Gaza strip, I see it, but we have on the other side to allow Israel to fight these terrorists.

Our Austrian Nobel Prize winner for literature Elfriede Jelinek wrote some days ago “With this crime, Hamas has destroyed itself once and for all.”

I hope she is right and there is no future for Hamas terrorists.

At the same time, and I want to close with this, I think we, our Assembly, as the international community have to support this two state solution despite all backlashes since the Camp David summit in 2000.

It remains for me the only way to ensure peace for Israeli and Palestinian people and for the whole region! And peace must be the end.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

17:40:14

Thank you, Mr Reinhold LOPATKA.

And now I would like to give the floor to Ms Seda GÖREN BÖLÜK from Türkiye.

Madam, you have the floor.

Ms Seda GÖREN BÖLÜK

Türkiye, NR

17:40:28

Dear Chairman,

Dear Colleagues,

"The whole of humanity is witnessing what is perhaps the worst crime against humanity in history". We sometimes use this phrase for the First World War, sometimes for Hiroshima, and most of the time for the Second World War.

However, in today's world, 25 295 Palestinians, including 11 000 children and 7 250 women, have been brutally massacred under the guise of anti-terror operations, in the space of just 108 days, and the slaughter continues unabated with over 63 000 wounded.

From the outset, the Israeli administration has been committing grave crimes against humanity before the eyes of the entire world. In the words of Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, "The world has witnessed at first hand the slaughter of innocent people by the Israeli killing machine".

Israel used banned phosphorus bombs against civilians in Gaza, as proven by photographs taken by international agencies.

Over 53 000 tons of bombs, the equivalent of 4.5 atomic bombs, were dropped on Gaza. In fact, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during the Second World War is equivalent to only 12 000 tonnes used by Israel.

In addition to this intensive bombardment, the Israeli administration is preventing access to electricity, fuel, water, food, medicine and medical supplies in Gaza.

It has bombed hospitals, schools, camps and places of worship where civilians were sheltering. Israel also asked Gazan civilians to go to Rafah, on the Egyptian border, for their own safety. Nearly two million people were forcibly displaced, and then Israel bombed them.

It blew up UN facilities and ruthlessly targeted ambulances. It erased Gaza's memory by destroying all archives and newspapers. It shot pregnant women carrying white flags and poured earth over them. It used the microphones of a mosque to mock the Palestinian dead.

Worse still, this sinister situation is the result of the actions of a country to which we have granted observer status because of its willingness to recognise our fundamental values, but which acts in total contradiction to them.

This Israeli atrocity has not gone unanswered by world public opinion. Unfortunately, some governments have tried to prevent these peaceful and legal demonstrations by labelling them "antisemitic". Yet slogans such as "No to genocide", "There are children in Gaza" or "Cease fire now" contain no antisemitic rhetoric.

At a time when people of conscience are rallying against Israel and some are calling for the withdrawal of its observer status in our Assembly, we should have held Israel responsible for the tragedy it has caused and condemned all its actions that have led to this tragedy.

We should closely follow the case against Israel before the International Court of Justice, which is a concrete step towards holding Israel accountable.

I pay tribute to all the diplomats, medical personnel, members of the press, children, women and civilians who have been killed in this war.

Finally, I wish to see an Assembly in which the victims of war are not evaluated according to their religion or nationality.

Thank you.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

17:44:21

Thank you, Ms Seda GÖREN BÖLÜK.

And now I would like to give the floor to Mr Armen GEVORGYAN from Armenia.

Mr Armen GEVORGYAN

Armenia, EC/DA

17:44:36

Madam Chair,

Unfortunately, violence has become one of the main mechanisms for implementing the plans of not only terrorist groups and authoritarian states but also democratic governments. As the UN, Council of Europe, OSCE and other international organisations lose their relevance and influence, unacceptable forms of solidarity between authoritarians and democracy appear, which are often based on a union of arms and oil. Such solidarity is limiting the right of many nations to self-determination and promoting direct aggression against other states. There is an expert opinion, for example, that Ilham Aliyev's decision to resolve disputes with Armenia by war rather than diplomacy was due to the fact that Israeli companies agreed to sell him top-shelf military technologies.

According to open sources, between 2016 and 2020, just before the start of the 44-day war in Nagorno-Karabakh, Israel accounted for almost 70% of Azerbaijan's major arm imports. Israel probably justifies this weapons trade with Azerbaijan on the basis of arms-for-energy calculations or Azerbaijan's willingness to co-operate on anti-Iran policy.

Therefore, Israeli politicians, as the representatives of a democratic state, must answer a very important question, is there a difference between Hamas and Azerbaijan when it comes to genocidal intent? Because the only difference between them is the target of their policy. Moreover, Israel's political elites must ensure a peaceful coexistence of the indigenous inhabitants of this holy land today. Otherwise, there is no explanation for the ongoing attempt to deprive the Armenian church of its historical heritage in Old Jerusalem.

Dear colleagues, we must call for patience in the Middle East as soon as possible. If this does not happen, the situation will also get out of control in the South Caucasus where the Turkish–Azerbaijani coalition is just waiting for more regional chaos for a new aggression against Armenia.

I strongly condemn the Hamas attack on Israel, and want the signals coming from Europe to the region to be clear, convincing and without the smack of double standards for all parties. Otherwise, expansion of the warzone is inevitable according to the logic of what Israel can do, we can too.

Thank you.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

17:47:23

Thank you Mr Armen GEVORGYAN.

Now I would like to give the floor to Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ, Switzerland.

You have the floor.

Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ

Switzerland, SOC

17:47:35

Thank you, Madam Vice-Chairwoman,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear colleagues,

I would like to thank the rapporteur for his report. I agree with most of his remarks and proposals.

What happened in Israel on 7 October is unacceptable, the barbarity perpetrated by Hamas intolerable, and Israel's response understandable. But at the same time, we must recognise that the price paid by the civilian population of Gaza in terms of innocent deaths and suffering is also unacceptable. The UN has just called the 100 days of war "a stain on our common humanity".

Here, I'd like to extend the debate and put what has happened into a historical context, again without excusing the violations of fundamental rights perpetrated in recent months on both sides.

I would compare Gaza to a pressure cooker, long ready to explode; an open-air prison with over two million people crammed into this small strip of land, following the vagaries of a recurring conflict dating back to 1948. And Gaza is not only the radicalised power of Hamas, but also a youth with no prospects, no future, no work, a resentful population surviving on a drip-feed of international aid in deplorable living conditions, extreme poverty and limited access to water.

It was easy, in this de facto context tolerated by the international community, in this frozen conflict with no way out, to allow Hamas to take power and prosper with a discourse of hatred and revenge. This issue has been forgotten by the international community, and the drift to the right over the years of successive Israeli governments, in parallel with the radicalisation of Hamas, has made it impossible to initiate a détente and find a solution to this explosive situation.

After long and meticulous preparation of its criminal plan, Hamas went on the attack on 7 October. The pressure cooker, with scenes of horror and unspeakable crimes. And Israel retaliated, using all available means, to destroy and eradicate Hamas' military forces and free over 200 hostages.

After more than three months of bitter conflict, most of Gaza's buildings and infrastructure have been destroyed; the population has had to flee to the south of the enclave, with no possibility of entering Egypt. Living conditions have become inhuman and, above all, according to Hamas, some 25,000 civilians have been killed, three times as many wounded, many of them children - innocent victims who are paying a high price.

Twenty-five thousand dead in Gaza - a figure that cannot be verified, of course - but that would represent more than one inhabitant in a hundred who would have died: it's as if, in Switzerland, nearly 100,000 people had been killed all at once, or millions and millions of Europeans.

We all know that blood money calls for blood. The victims spared today, driven by an irrepressible sense of revenge, will become future time bombs for the Israeli people and the international community.

Dear colleagues, these tragedies must stop, and a ceasefire must interrupt this deadly headlong rush. The hostages must also be released without delay.

I appeal to reason, to appeasement, to the time for humanitarian aid, with in parallel an essential political time, under the protection of an international intervention force.

For me, the only credible option is a two-state solution. Let's hope it's not too late.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

17:51:15

Thank you.

And now I will give the floor to Mr Georgios STAMATIS from Greece.

Mr Georgios STAMATIS

Greece, EPP/CD

17:51:28

[initial words are not picked up by interpreter]

... we will commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz.

And what happened there?

Nazis killed people because they were homosexual, or because they were Roma people.

The same thing happened.

Hamas killed people because they were Jewish.

In a paradox of history, we are talking about people who believed in democracy and believed in freedom.

Hamas is not a revolutionary organisation. It is a terrorist organisation.

Mr Reinhold LOPATKA was right, the question is what choice will we make? Terrorism or democracy?

We must choose democracy, because the day after will be a very bad day for us if we don't react.

In Tel Aviv there is a family of five people, the Siman Tov family: Yotanan the father, Tamar the mother, Shahar, Arbel, twins aged six, and Omer aged four.

They were murdered. This family was burned alive. They believed in democracy, and that's what happened.

So this report which follows the principles of the Council of Europe, we will support and we consider the Council of Europe, because the international community has not yet found a solution, must undertake this initiative.

We must decide that we will not let Hamas terrorists or dictators like Putin, or anyone else that wants to do whatever they feel like doing to their neighbours, be able to act. The international community failed to do so.

Where do Hamas' weapons come from? Who is supplying them with weapons?

The money that the international community has sent to Hamas. Has it been used for hospitals? No, it has not. It has been used to buy weapons for terrorism, and not to feed the people or to create a Palestinian state. It has been used for the extermination of Jews.

The countries that we represent must support humanitarian law, and humanitarian assistance should finally arrive at the Palestinian people and not at Hamas' doorstep.

Thank you.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

17:54:27

Thank you.

And now I would like to give the floor to Mr Jeremy CORBYN from the United Kingdom.

Mister CORBYN, you have the floor.

Mr Jeremy CORBYN

United Kingdom, SOC

17:54:38

Thank you.

And we thank the authors of this Report for putting it forward to us.

Even though some of us have some concerns about much of the content of it, the events on 7 October were unbelievably awful and appalling and our hearts have to go out to all the families and loved ones of those that either disappeared or were killed on that day.

Whoever the person is that's been killed, there is grief amongst others. A mother grieves for a lost son or a lost daughter, whatever their religion, whatever their nationality.

And the events since 7 October of the bombardment of Gaza and the continued destruction of all life there have not brought anybody back but have created more bitterness and more hatred. And there has to be a way forward.

After 7 October the General Secretary of the United Nations António Guterres said this didn't all come from nowhere and drew to attention the 75 years of occupation, the numbers of Palestinian refugees that are in camps in Jordan, in Lebanon, in Syria, and other places, and of course the occupation of the West Bank and the continued settlement policy. These issues have to be addressed if to ensure there is a long-term sustainable peace within the region.

If there isn't a sustainable peace so far as the Palestinian people are concerned, then this will lead to other conflicts as it already is in the case of Yemen and the growing militarisation of the whole region.

Our job surely has to be to search for peace and you achieve that peace through searching for justice.

I was at the International Court of Justice two weeks ago to listen to the South African application, where they made an application under the genocide convention and they pointed out that the government of Israel, particularly Prime Minister Netanyahu, has made statements about the destruction of Gaza, destruction of all life in Gaza, and the expulsion of the population of Gaza.

After 7 October they were told to move South to a place of safety. They moved South to what they believed to be a place of safety and were promptly bombed. And there are now a million people corralled around the Rafah Crossing, desperate for support, desperate for aid, and desperate for some degree of hope.

And so we look forward to what the International Court of Justice is going to say about this.

We also have to recognise that the number of people have lost their lives is horrendous; 25 000 known to be dead, probably 8 000 to 10 000 bodies will be found under the rubble, and many now dying of starvation, of dehydration, of diarrhoea and all those wholly preventable conditions.

So, surely, us, as the Council of Europe, the custodians of the European Convention on Human Rights, a body that represents people all over this continent, can do one good thing today and simply say there must be an unconditional ceasefire now so that aid can get in to support the people of Palestine, the people of Gaza, but above all we can then achieve a long-term peace which means justice for the people of Palestine and an end to the occupation.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

17:58:11

Thank you.

And now I would like to give the floor to Mr Zsolt NÉMETH from Hungary.

Please, you have the floor.

Mr Zsolt NÉMETH

Hungary, EC/DA

17:58:22

Thank you very much, Madam President.

I would like to underline, dear colleagues, that we are here because of the Hamas terrorist attack on 7 October against Israel. Yesterday, in the Committee we discussed the word "barbarism". There was an amendment which suggested that "barbarism" should be deleted. And the answer from the Committee was, "No, we don't delete it because it was barbarism". I would say the most barbaric terror attack in recent modern history was what happened on 7 October in Israel. Yesterday, there was an official statement by Hamas about the events on 7 October. They said there were mistakes. That was the Hamas statement about 7 October. After two months, I think we are quite far away from a common interpretation and, unfortunately, this debate reflects the same. Allow me to suggest a few ideas for the common denominator. Number one, the right of Israel to self-defence is a point of departure. Secondly, I would suggest that we should make clear that there is no freedom of assembly in democracies for antisemitic and anti-Israeli propaganda. That is what the Hungarian government has followed and decided to pursue. Three, the hostages must be freed immediately and unconditionally. The five Hungarian hostages, unfortunately, some of them died, and one is still a hostage. The humanitarian assistance, yes, to Gaza; the humanitarian assistance must be guaranteed, but at the same time we need to prevent the internationalisation of the conflict with our utmost energy, be it Iran or Russia or the Houthis. And the Palestinian–Israeli relations, yes, it needs a long-lasting solution but, unfortunately, exactly this attack was to prevent the process of the Abraham Accords. And we need to look to the future. It probably will not be easy but, dear colleagues, yes, either terrorism or democracy. And terrorism cannot play a role in the long-lasting solution. It must not play a role in the long-lasting solution. Hamas' terrorist strategy is a dead-end street.

Thank you very much.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

18:01:36

Thank you.

As it is 6:00 p.m., I now declare that voting is closed for the election of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and for three judges to the European Court of Human Rights.

Please could the tellers for each political group go to the designated room to attend the counting? The result will be announced, if possible, before the close of today’s sitting.

Now I give the floor to Mr George LOUCAIDES from Cyprus.

You have the floor.

Mr George LOUCAIDES

Cyprus, UEL

18:02:14

Dear colleagues,

In the 13 years I have been at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, there have been moments of disappointment due to the prevalence of double standards.

On the other hand, there have also been many moments of satisfaction, as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe stood up for its core values and principles, demonstrating in practice its resolve and determination as a pioneer Organisation in the field of human rights protection.

However, in the case of the atrocities committed by Israel, the stance of the Council of Europe, and the Assembly in particular, has been the most disappointing experience thus far.

Even though we correctly condemned Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel on 7 October, as it also targeted innocent civilians we have for 105 days turned a blind eye to the tragic situation of the Palestinians in Gaza.

Not only did this Organisation not condemn this situation, regrettably it has not even voiced criticism nor prompted the consideration of an alternative reaction on the part of Israel.

Even though the UN has documented the following realities, no statement was made as regards the massive murder of thousands of civilians, the majority of whom were women and children, including also 75 journalists, UN staff as well as medical and paramedical personnel.

We remained silent whilst Israel made Gaza uninhabitable by destroying housing units and infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, refugee camps, churches and mosques, in blatant violation of international humanitarian law.

We ignored, this Organisation ignored the relevant statements issued by Israeli government officials, including those of Netanyahu, some calling even for the use of nuclear bombs against the Palestinians, and Israel’s relevant acts of genocide as we also ignored the deprivation of Palestinians access to water, food, electricity, fuel, and medical aid, leading them to starvation.

This Organisation did not feel the need to react on the massive displacement of almost 90% of Gaza’s population and the acts of ethnic cleansing that have created a worse Nakba than the previous one.

Our silence does not honour us, does not honour this Organisation. But on the contrary, undermines its credibility.

However, this Resolution, if relevant amendments are supported, gives us the opportunity to speak the truth and to call a spade a spade:

To condemn not only the events on October 7th, but also those that preceded and followed them.

To call for an immediate, unconditional and permanent ceasefire.

To call for the immediate release of all Hamas hostages and Palestinian political detainees in Israeli prisons including children and women.

To call on the Israeli authorities to end the policies of occupation and apartheid, to prevent settler violence and refrain from building new settlements or extend old ones and for carrying out home demolitions, forced evictions and confiscation of land in the occupied territories.

To, finally, call for the resumption of peace negotiations based on a two-state solution in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions that will lead to a just and lasting peace for all the peoples of the region.

Thank you.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

18:05:53

Thank you.

And now I would like to give to floor to Mr Boaz BISMUTH from Israel.

 

Mr Boaz BISMUTH

Israel

18:06:05

Madam President, I must admit I came to Israel with my speech, but when I hear some of your speeches, too many unfortunately, I'll speak to you directly, because honestly I come to a very respectful platform, and I think that the debate of today when I hear speeches is a disgrace for your platform, and you're staining the place where you're sitting, and I'll tell you why.

For me, you know, the Holocaust that you're going to commemorate tomorrow, you know, the 27 had to be the international day of the Holocaust, of the Shoah. And, you know, that day, is a specific day, and the Shoah is specific, there were other atrocities, others genocide in the world.

Yet, the Holocaust had its particularity. Never do we like to do the parallel with the Holocaust. Yet my president has done it after 7 October. And you know why? Because people violated my sovereignty, entered my homes, entered kibbutz, enter little towns, and did not kill, because kill is too easy, they slaughtered, they raped, they hijacked, they mutilated. Why? Because you are Jewish.

What has happened 80 years ago, you did it because you're Jewish. That's exactly what you do. But there's a big difference. 80 years ago what did you do when he was raped, mutilated, assassinated, killed. What did he do? He ran away. He fled. What does he do today? He defends himself. But, my God, the Jew cannot defend himself because immediately all of you will speak of crimes, war crimes. My God, I mean, how come?

You must understand one thing: I hear many of you here, and you speak in this platform honourable again, but you know what drives me crazy? I hear zero compassion. Now forget my 136 hostages. Okay, you are very far, you don't think of them. But let me talk to you about one specific one. And you know why I say one? There is one the day he was hijacked, he was nine months old. A week ago he celebrated one year. So I would expect you, the ones who come give their speeches, to show a little bit of compassion to the Jews. But you will not do it.

You know what? It's even more disgusting. Because you will go and you will see how in this international arena you will see a country like South Africa accusing someone to tell you something they call genocide. There is something I want you to understand. Hamas terrorists are the new Nazis. And if you do not understand that you understood nothing.

But there is one thing after those speeches that I hear, those disgrace, those shameful speeches I hear. I did not come here to Strasbourg to speak to you in order to justify myself. I came as an accuser. And, my God, when I was a kid I asked my parents 80 years ago, when you had the Holocaust, where were all those people when they were killing Jews? Why didn't they say anything?

And I come here to Strasbourg and I understand the child I was asking the questions, because of some of you in your speeches... my God, thank God, some Jews, you are not their neighbours.

Thank you very much.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

18:09:32

Thank you, Mister BISMUTH.

Now I call Mr Armağan CANDAN, from Cyprus.

You have the floor.

Mr Armağan CANDAN

Cyprus* [Resolution 1376 (2004)]

18:09:44

Dear colleagues,

Yet again we are witnessing a humanitarian disaster.

I would like to start by condemning the attack by Hamas towards Israeli civilians. Nothing can justify that kind of terrorism.

At the same time, the Israeli response towards civilians is not acceptable either.

The attacks towards Palestinians have been resulting in shocking numbers of civilian causalities every day. The killing of individuals is not acceptable.

Each day, hundreds of lives are getting lost and the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is getting worse.

We need an immediate ceasefire to end civilian bloodshed and ensure humanitarian aid access to Gaza.

Israeli hostages also should be released as soon as possible.

We, as members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, need to take tangible steps to stop this bloodshed and inhumane cruelty.

I have a lot of Palestinian relatives, and I also have a lot of Israeli friends.

We should do our best to stop this now.

We, as Turkish Cypriots, suffered a humanitarian crisis in Cyprus between 1963 and 1974, when we were forced to live in ghettos. We lived under similar conditions for 11 years. We can understand the insecurity and fear of death both sides are feeling at the moment. This is not acceptable.

Civilian Palestinians are suffering waiting at what moment to be killed by the bombs.

This is the biggest humanitarian crisis and we all failed. We are all failing once again.

An immediate ceasefire is needed and diplomatic efforts should be established immediately to facilitate the negotiations to restart for the two-state solution in that region.

Thank you very much.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

18:12:02

Thank you.

The last speaker for this debate is Mr Damien COTTIER, from Switzerland.

Mister Damien, you have the floor.

Mr Damien COTTIER

Switzerland, ALDE

18:12:13

Thank you, Madam Chairman.

Obviously, this debate is taking place with a great deal of emotion - and that's understandable - but I believe, on the contrary, Mr BISMUTH, that the report delivered to us by the rapporteur Mr FASSINO is a credit to this Assembly, because he delivers an extremely balanced report, which looks at problems from both sides and in an extremely objective way. It's important for us to be able to debate it, albeit with emotion at times, but also by looking at the reality of the situation.

As you know, this Assembly has already debated this situation three times. It did so here in October, and I don't think you were present at that debate - and this is obviously not a reproach: all the political groups, with extremely strong words, condemned the atrocities and barbarism of 7 October. It was necessary and right to do so. This emotion and condemnation are still present in these debates.

We did the same in Vaduz at the meeting of the Standing Committee, with the same severity against the despicable attacks by Hamas against the Israeli civilian population and with all that has been described: these attacks, these murders, these mutilations, these rapes which are atrocities for which we cannot find words strong enough to condemn. That's why the Swiss Parliament is debating or will soon be debating the banning of Hamas as a terrorist organisation - and it's necessary to do so.

Yes, Israel has the right to defend itself. Yes, Israel has the right to be safe, has the right to see its children, its men and its women freed. There are still 136 hostages in the hands of Hamas: they must be freed immediately, absolutely.

However, it is important that we discuss the concrete situation in Gaza: when I listened last week to representatives of international humanitarian organisations telling us how catastrophic the situation is there, we also expect Israel to respect its obligations under international law and to carry out its offensives in the most targeted way possible, with the greatest possible respect for the civilian population. It's all about "proportionality", which is clearly in the spirit and text of the Geneva Conventions, which we must all apply. That's what we're talking about today: humanitarian access to avoid this catastrophic situation.

I think it's really important for everyone to understand this. Of course we have to target Hamas' military targets and put them out of action, but we have to do it in such a way that it's acceptable and proportionate, that it's acceptable for the civilian population. I firmly believe that this is in the interest of peace in the region, and therefore also in the interest of Israel, because otherwise, there will be no understanding in world public opinion; because otherwise, it will not respect its obligations, and because otherwise, it will be impossible to build a lasting peace.

This is what our Assembly must call for today.

I think that Mr FASSINO's report does this extremely well: that's why it received very broad support yesterday in committee, and I hope that it will receive very broad support from this Assembly, with a few amendments that specify Iran's responsibilities in particular in the region, which were accepted unanimously and which I supported.

This is what we need to be able to debate here in all serenity, despite the emotion. You know, pain doesn't compete: it adds up.

We really must seek the best solution here for a lasting peace and respect for international humanitarian law.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

18:16:05

Thank you Mister COTTIER.

And now I must interrupt the list of speakers. The speeches of members on the speaker's list who have been present during the debate but have not been able to speak may be given to the Table Office for publication in the official Report.

I remind colleagues that type-written text must be submitted electronically no later than 4 hours after the list of speakers is interrupted.

I call Mr Piero FASSINO, rapporteur, to reply to the debate.

You have 3 minutes.

Mr Piero FASSINO

Italy, SOC, Rapporteur

18:16:41

Thank you, President,

I think the debate shows how much this crisis shakes the consciences of each of us, and I think it is natural that it should.

In the face of the massacre of Jewish citizens on 7 October, in the face of the huge number of civilian casualties in Palestine, it is quite obvious that there are feelings and emotions.

Politics never prescinds from feelings and emotions.

I also think, however, that one must be able to look at things without having any form of passivity or cynicism, with rationality. I don't think you can, for example, say as I have heard in some speeches, "Do we condemn Hamas? But the Israelis?" as if the two were on the same plane, because they are not on the same level.

The brutalities that Hamas has committed are such that they cannot be compared with the Israeli military offensive. Then that military offensive took many casualties, too many casualties. Does that lead us to criticise Netanyahu and his government for the choices they made? Yes, but there is no comparison between Hamas and Israel. I'm sorry, you have to be clear about that.

If we establish a comparison, we change the reading of that massacre just as there is no justification for the Hamas massacre. People often say, "Yes, but Hamas did that. We condemn it, but the occupation of the West Bank..." Those are two things that stand on absolutely different levels that are absolutely not comparable.

I think we have to have the clarity to know that Hamas is an organisation that has only one goal, reiterated again yesterday by one of its main leaders and that is one Palestine from Jerusalem to the sea, the destruction of Israel, the expulsion of the Jews from the land of the Middle East.

Then we have to be on this net. It is not that we just condemn a massacre, we condemn a strategy of which that massacre was the crudest and most brutal expression. It is a political strategy of Hamas that we condemn and that we cannot accept.

After that, we also know that the number of casualties that occurred in Palestine is enormous. We have no hesitation in saying that there was certainly a disproportion. U.S. President Biden has acknowledged it. Blinken has said it. Sullivan has said it. Those in the European Union have said it. We say it, too.

It is not that there is a lack of critical capacity, but I repeat critical capacity that does not confuse responsibility. You see, and then I will finish, there is a difference.

This morning Mr Frank SCHWABE quoted in his speech a nice interview given this morning by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to an international newspaper. Olmert said one thing as a former Israeli Prime Minister. He said something very simple: you can criticise Netanyahu, but Netanyahu criticism should not mean the demonisation and criminalisation of Israel. That sounds like common sense to me.

That is exactly what we have to do. I do not spare any criticism of Netanyahu. I don't forget that when Yitzkah Rabin died, Netanyahu said, with Rabin's death Oslo died. If you want, Netanyahu has been consistent. He did everything to make sure that Oslo was not enforced, and for that I think he should be strongly criticised, not only for what he is doing today, but for all the responsibilities he has had in these 20 years.

That does not lead me to have an attitude of criminalisation towards Israel, of denial of its rights, of denial of its existence, because those are two radically different levels. I point out that on the other hand, no one in the Arab world, even the moderate Arab world, and not even the PNA has expressed a clear, unequivocal, explicit condemnation of the Hamas massacre. This, too, is a difference that perhaps needs to be grasped.

Finally, I think the key thing, I agree with the urge that has come from everybody, is to get a ceasefire because it radically changes the context of the development of this conflict.

A ceasefire to stop the weapons in the meantime, because every day of war is death, destruction, devastation. We have to stop them. A ceasefire because this can facilitate the resumption of negotiations of a hostage release. A ceasefire to allow the Palestinian population living in tents to return to their homes.

A ceasefire in order to move this conflict from weapons to the search for a political solution which, however, I said it in my report and I won't take any more of your time, we all say two peoples two states. I am as much of a believer as you are. Mind you, it's not enough to say it, because what has been produced in these weeks makes it difficult even to build that solution.

That is precisely why a strong international initiative is required to overcome the obstacles and try to build the conditions of the realisation of that solution.

I thank you for your attention.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

18:22:27

Thank you, Mister FASSINO.

Does the Chair of the Committee, Mr Bertrand BOUYX, wish to speak?

You have three minutes.

Mr Bertrand BOUYX

France, ALDE, Chairperson of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy

18:22:43

Thank you, Madam President.

Following this debate, I would like to thank all the colleagues who have contributed their comments to this discussion.

We are witnessing a difficult moment for the region. It is also a challenge for the international community, for Europe, for our societies, for this Assembly.

I would like to stress that the Assembly has been clear in its condemnation, just as the rapporteur has been clear in his stance on the terrible atrocities committed by the Hamas terrorist group on 7 October. What is happening over there shakes our hearts and minds: deliberate terrorist attacks by Hamas on civilian populations, targeting the most vulnerable; young people, children, the elderly, babies, killed, mutilated, taken hostage, and the murder of the population of entire villages.

These attacks are despicable, inexcusable, inhuman. They have a name, and the word "pogrom" is there to describe them.

Since then, the war in Gaza has continued, with no political prospect in sight; it has caused the death of tens of thousands of Palestinians and the displacement of many more, with all the misery that entails. Politics must reclaim its rights to preserve human life, whatever it may be, wherever it may be.

I would like to thank Mr Piero FASSINO for his comprehensive, clear and well-documented report on this attack, and for outlining the situation which has evolved rapidly since then; this includes the human situation in Gaza, and calls for rapid, safe and unhindered access to humanitarian aid for the population.

I would also like to thank the observer delegation from Israel and the Partner for Democracy delegation from Palestine for taking part in this dialogue.

As the resolution underlines, this Assembly is a forum for parliamentary dialogue, and we will persist in our efforts to promote dialogue between the Knesset, the Palestinian National Council and the parliaments of Council of Europe member states.

This resolution also underlines our deep concern at the alarming rise in anti-Semitic incidents in our streets: we affirm our rejection of all forms of incitement to violence, and deplore hatred and intolerance in all its forms.

As parliamentarians, we can be at the forefront of responses to intolerance, both in the public defense of human rights and democracy, and in the rejection of all forms of religious intolerance, racism and hate speech.

So, dear colleagues, I would like to thank you once again, to thank our rapporteur and to encourage you to support this resolution.

Thank you very much.

Ms Aurora FLORIDIA

Italy, SOC

20:16:24

Speech not pronounced (Rules of Procedure, Art. 31.2), only available in Italian

Ms Meryem GÖKA

Türkiye, NR

20:16:27

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Dear President,

Dear Colleagues,

None of us have ever witnessed anything like this.

War crimes are happening in real time before our eyes.

What is happening in Gaza will remain a disgrace on the conscious of humanity.

Shocking images reach us through our screens, every hour and every day …

But there is … Deafening silence …

The world should be ashamed that there is no safe space in Gaza, and that starvation is being used as a weapon of war.

Women and children account for 70 % of the nearly 25 thousand Gazans brutally killed by Israeli forces.

Over 200 UN personnel and journalists have lost their lives…

All of these are not just cold numbers, but the loss of human lives.

The Israeli administration, supported by many Western countries, continues to bomb schools, mosques, churches, hospitals and civilian settlements, infringing on all the values of humanity.

Israel has imposed a “complete siege” on Gaza and has cut off all access to food, water, electricity, fuel, and medicines.

Yet, most Western countries that always talk about human rights, freedoms and democracy just watch Israel’s massacres from a distance, incapable of calling even for a ceasefire. This is pure hypocrisy.

In Türkiye and all over the world, there are hundreds of thousands on the streets in support of Palestine.

We also, welcome the application made by South Africa to the International Court of Justice. We once again declare our support for this process.

Yet, it is disheartening that most Western countries are not supporting such a crucial case.

There can be no double standards when we speak about human rights.

Israel’s conduct in Gaza has reminded the world community of its promise:

“Never Again”. But: 'Never Again' Is Now !

Since the very beginning, President Erdoğan has been coordinating diplomatic efforts on the Palestinian issue.

He has also stated Türkiye's willingness to take on the role of a guarantor in the conflict and has been emphasizing that there is only one solution to bring security and stability to the region,

That is the two-state solution,

a fully independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital as referred to in the draft resolution.

Now,

First and foremost,

there must be an immediate ceasefire,

Israel must stop its deadly attacks,

allow humanitarian aid into Gaza,

and put an end to its illegal settlements and occupation,

Thank you.

Sir Edward LEIGH

United Kingdom, EC/DA

20:16:33

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

The Middle East is once again witnessing an unfolding tragedy

Hamas’s attacks on 7 October of last year were cold-blooded, horrendous, and worthy of our complete contempt

695 Israeli civilians – including 36 children – were murdered, as well as 71 foreigners and 373 members of the Israeli security forces

250 civilians were taken hostage, including 30 children

110 of these have now been freed, some of them in exchange for Palestinian prisoners detained by Israel

27 hostages were killed in captivity

136 individuals are still being held hostage in the Gaza Strip

Israel has a right to defend itself and there is no justification for the intentional targeting of civilians nor for the use of rape as a weapon of war

Israel at all times must do its utmost to reduce civilian casualties to the absolute minimum

Their task is made infinitely more difficult because Hamas undoubtedly use civilian and medical facilities for military purposes

The callous cynicism of Hamas must be called out into the open

They utilise hospitals and built-up civilians areas for military purposes, including offensive operations against civilians

Because Israel must eliminate or severely reduce Hamas’s capabilities, the Israeli Army is forced to attack Hamas where they are

This inevitably – although not intentionally on Israel’s part – results in Palestinian civilian casualties

Every dead Palestinian civilian is a tragic loss to family, friends, and neighbours

It is revolting that each death is then fed into Hamas’s propaganda machine and used as further justification for terrorism against Israel

This cycle of violence shows that Hamas have no regard for the lives of innocent Palestinians

It is too simplistic to call for a cease-fire while hostages are being held and while Hamas still has offensive capabilities

It seems clear to me that there is no way to secure a lasting peace until there is a stable and peaceful Palestinian state, willing to live alongside its neighbours

The pre-1967 armistice lines provide a good basis for borders between Israel and Palestine – though of course if they want to negotiate equal exchanges of land on either side of those lines that is up to them

Israel needs to be honest with itself and with its friends and allies

What is the endgame they envisage?

If it is no Palestinian state at all, but continued Israeli dominance over the Palestinian territories, then terrorists like Hamas will continue to find recruits

This is not a future we in Europe should support; it is not a future that will benefit Israelis – and it certainly would be no good at all to the Palestinians

A sovereign Palestinian state is not a cure-all

If Israel-hating terrorist groups manage to obtain control of a Palestinian state then of course Israel would be threatened and would have to consider its options

Hamas don’t even believe in a Palestinian state

They want a caliphate across the entirety of the Middle East, including the extermination of the Jewish population

But peace must remain the goal

The hopes that existed in the 1990s for a permanent solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine have not borne fruit, sadly, and there is enough blame to go around

Israel has unwisely continued to protect and expand its settlements on the West Bank

This very visibly undermines the commitment to find a permanent solution to this conflict that was made by both sides in 1993 in the Oslo accords

Only 18 per cent of the West Bank is under full Palestinian civil and security control

A further 22 per cent is under Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control

The situation is not a simple one

On the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority is widely viewed as run by corrupt self-interested people

They have postponed the presidential and parliamentary elections indefinitely

In Gaza, Israel has disengaged since 2005 and Hamas has run riot

We in Europe have our part to play as well

We should ensure that terrorist organisations are not allowed to operate within our own borders

The United Kingdom and other countries have introduced personal sanctions against individuals involved in financing Hamas

The group itself has been banned as a terrorist organisation in the UK since 2021

But we also need to encourage the players in the region to work constructively towards peace

The United Kingdom and our fellow members of the Council of Europe should want to be friends with Israel and with Palestine

The mark of true friendship is not uncritical acceptance of one another’s actions:

It is the ability to speak frankly, and to criticise when we feel it is justified

That is why we must support Israel but encourage them to figure out where they need to be in order for Palestinians to exercise statehood

That is why we need to undermine terrorists groups in Palestine who only want to sow discord and murder innocent people

There can be no peace without honesty

Ms Marie-Christine DALLOZ

France, EPP/CD

20:16:39

Speech not pronounced (Rules of Procedure, Art. 31.2), only available in French

Mr Didier MARIE

France, SOC

20:16:40

Speech not pronounced (Rules of Procedure, Art. 31.2), only available in French

Mr Niklaus-Samuel GUGGER

Switzerland, EPP/CD

20:16:47

Speech not pronounced (Rules of Procedure, Art. 31.2), only available in German

Mr Abdurrahman BABACAN

Türkiye, NR

20:16:51

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Europe has made a grave mistake with its reaction to the humanitarian tragedy and genocide committed by Israel in Gaza. With its own hands, it does nothing but deepen the great doubt and disbelief that has emerged and is getting stronger and deeper in the world regarding the European identity, European values, Europe’s political significance and global dominance, which have been discussed in the world for a long time. And still insists on this.

These all serve to confirm and deepen the thesis that “the European Western model is in decline” on the global scale, particularly in the eyes of the new generations. And European political, economic, academic and cultural elites are getting this with their own hands.

Moreover, fancy but empty conceptualizations are no longer enough to cover this fundamental problem. Conceptualizations of 9/11 such as war on terrorism, Islamic terrorism or just war, and even anti-Semitism, are some of these.

While it has already been questioned regarding the political and military weight for a long time, Europe is now rapidly losing its credibility in terms of intellectual and moral superiority, which its main claim for over years since Immanuel Kant.

Substantially, this could mean the end of European and the Western idea in the medium term. Because in the coming period, the process of deconstruction, in Derida’s words, of these conceptualizations, which turned out to be invalid for different communities in the world will begin. The concepts of human rights, democracy and pluralism, on the global scale, will be questioned and deconstructed. And the real break will start thereafter.

Its decreasing profile, especially in recent years, a problematic political trend and path, and the mental, cultural and visional problem at the elites level that has been going on for years, have now completely paralyzed Europe regarding the Gaza issue today. And Europe is trying to confront its historically negative baggage on the Jewish issue by killing innocence and conscience today.

Mr Lukas SAVICKAS

Lithuania, SOC

20:16:55

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Dear colleagues, dear friends,

I know very well, that those of us who have visited Israel after Hamas’ terrorist attack, who have witnessed, seen, even smelled the horrific aftermath of indescribable acts between human beings, continue to carry those images every day.

We must acknowledge that this is not just another regional conflict or another terrorist attack. It is a challenge to democracies globally. It is a challenge directed at creating division and conflict within democratic societies. And, therefore, we must see it for what it is. And in doing so, ensure that our response is well balanced as democracies worldwide must not only maintain their capabilities to protect themselves but at the same time maintain unquestionable stance on our core values.

The attack by Hamas on October 7 against Israel is the largest since 1973. During the attack, over 1,200 Israel residents were killed.

The actions of the attackers – who slaughtered hundreds of people, raped women and took 239 hostages – leave no doubt about the terrorist nature of Hamas and the other affiliated groups who took part in this carnage, and cannot be justified on any grounds whatsoever.

The report, rightfully so, calls on ALL member States of the Council of Europe to designate Hamas as a terrorist organisation and take appropriate measures to thwart its operational capacity. It is a concrete action all of ours countries can do and must do.

In response to this attack, the Israeli Government launched a war against Hamas. Israel’s military response has resulted in the loss of thousands of lives, massive displacement and widespread destruction of civilian objects and infrastructure in Gaza.

The high human toll is not only due to military operations being conducted in densely populated areas but also due to the use of the Palestinian population as human shields by Hamas.

We cannot turn a blind eye to this suffering in Gaza. The report, therefore, calls for ceasefire to allow full, rapid, safe and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance for the population in Gaza.

However, we must acknowledge, that introduction of ceasefire and the resumption of peace negotiations based on a two-State solution can only become a reality if all hostages are released and operational capacity of Hamas is confined.

Therefore this situation requires a well-balanced approach, which is demonstrated by the rapporteur in the report. I urge to support it.

Mr Robert TROY

Ireland, ALDE

20:17:01

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

The Invasion of Israel by Hamas, all the atrocities torture, rape and killings are totally unforgivable. There are no words of mine, no adjectives strong enough to condemn what Hamas a terrorist organisation has done to innocent civilians for no other reason other than being a jew. I listened to my colleague from Israel and I feel her pain when she spoke of what has been done to innocent civilians

Sadly I don’t see pain for the innocent Palestinians who have been under siege by a democratic state. As a democratic state they must live up and abide by international rules which they are simply not doing. This resolution does NOT go far enough. I was amazed at the resistance to strengthen this resolution by the majority of the members of the political affairs committee.

People who rightly condemn what Russia is doing in Ukraine are unable to do the same to what is being done to innocent civilians in Palestine. This body founded on the principle of protecting human rights is failing miserably to stand for human rights of innocent civilians – women and children

The situation in Gaza has been described as apocalyptic by the UN High Commissioner for Human rights, Doctors without borders working on the ground has described how the health system has collapsed. This is not propaganda these are facts

Earlier this morning I listened to a Jewish lady on Morning Ireland, our current affairs programme in Ireland. She was the daughter whose both parents were captured by HAMAS in the attack on October 7th. Her Mother has subsequently been released but not her father. She is worried for his safety but believes the continued war is not helping and she is calling for an immediate ceasefire

This body needs to in its loudest possible voice condemn what is happening in GAZA,

In its loudest voice call for a unconditional ceasefire and work through diplomatic mechanism to bring about release of all captives and a long term solution.

Ms Ingjerd Schie SCHOU

Norway, EPP/CD

20:17:08

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

President, Colleagues,

On October 7 we were shocked by the gruesome terrorist attack by Hamas against Israel.

It was the deadliest single attack on Israel by Hamas ever.

Children, youth and the elderly were not spared, they were brutally terrorised, killed and taken hostage.

Families and communities were traumatised.

An attack like this would be a deep wound to any country.

President,

In my speech in October, I strongly condemned the attack, and I underlined Israel’s right to self-defence.

Now three months later I still condemn the attack, and I am still of the opinion that Israel has a right to self-defence.

However, the right to self-defence is not a blank check.

International law still applies.

In accordance with international humanitarian law self-defence must be proportional and civilian lives must be spared.

This is not the case in Gaza right now.

As the tragedy unfolds more and more civilian lives in Gaza are lost. The humanitarian crisis is developing into a humanitarian catastrophy.

The number of children who have lost their lives is increasing by the day, nearing 10.000. No one is spared.

Yes, Israel has a right to self-defence, but the scale of the retaliation that we see is simply not proportional.

As representatives of the Council of Europe, a rules-based organisation, and the most important advocate for rule of law, democracy and human rights in Europe, the keeper of fundamental values that extend beyond our European borders, it is our duty to raise our voice and be clear, international law, and international humanitarian law must be respected.

President,

Through this resolution we call for release of hostages, for an immediate ceasefire, and the resumption of peace negotiations based on a two-State solution.

To those of you from Israel and Palestine present in our hemicycle today I encourage you to take this message home and to take the political responsibility you as representatives of your peoples are given.

Contribute to de-escalate and end the violence. Contribute to building trust and confidence in the post-war-situation that will come.

Thank you!

Mr Anastasios CHATZIVASILEIOU

Greece, EPP/CD

20:17:16

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Dear colleagues,

The Parliamentary Assembly should by all means condemn the terrorist attack by Hamas against civilians in Israel. At the same time, we have to express our support for Israel’s right to self-defense and remind of the necessity for an independent Palestinian state, within the borders of 1967.

In his excellent report, Mr. Fassino describes our common concern regarding: First, the immediate release of all the hostages arrested by Hamas; Second, the civilian casualties; Third, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Dear colleagues,

The Council of Europe is the cradle of human rights and the rule of law. The current situation in the Middle East poses a challenge for all. We cannot accept the brutal violence by Hamas terrorists. I cannot understand why some member states of our Council avoid the condemnation of this despicable action.

And I cannot understand why some states blur the line between Hamas and the Palestinian people who dream of a state. Palestinian people and terrorists are not the same. We should underline that Israel, which responds to these attacks, should act within the boundaries of humanitarian law.

Dear colleagues,

As the situation in the Red Sea and the terrorist action by the Houthi deteriorates, the danger for a regional conflict is there. I agree with Mr. Fassino that we need to engage with all partners in order to prevent escalation. Our Assembly, as a recognized power of parliamentary diplomacy, should send a strong message against escalation.

The two-state solution is the only that could guarantee regional stability. Yes, the Palestinians deserve a state, but the Israelis deserve living in security. And the disarmament of Hamas is a prerequisite for lasting peace.

Our Assembly should be involved with all the international actors in order to work towards a fair and durable peace.

Thank you.

Mr François BONNEAU

France, ALDE

20:17:36

Speech not pronounced (Rules of Procedure, Art. 31.2), only available in French

Ms Christiana EROTOKRITOU

Cyprus, SOC

20:17:41

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Dear Colleagues,

I want to thank Mr Fassino whose extensive knowledge on the Middle East is evident in this Report.

The escalation of violence in the Middle East, as a result of Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel on October 7th, is intrinsically linked to the complexity and volatility of the region. Mutually exclusive perceptions of the conflict by its main key players, as well as the failure of the international community to act as a credible interlocutory in the region has, unfortunately, allowed a terrorist organization namely Hamas to jeopardize the Arab world’s efforts to normalize relations with Israel and to finally give peace a chance.

It is undisputable that Europe and the world at large is directly and adversely affected by instability in the Middle East. Nobody can deny that the primary recipient of the results of the war in Syria was Europe itself. It still is. It is therefore imperative to accept the obvious, that it is essential for European and even global stability, prosperity and peace to ensure that the Middle East is at peace.

Iran’s role in providing financial assistance and training to Hezbollah and Hamas and its offshoot Islamic Jihad, is crucial in understanding the perseverance of radical Islam in the region. Military, economic and political ties have been forged on the basis of the denial of Israel’s right to exist. Turkey’s occupation of Northern Syria and its military intervention in Libya, instability in Iraq, the war in Syria, the instability in Lebanon only enhance the fragility of the region and help to ignite regional passions. The Huthis, besides the catastrophe they brought in Yemen and its people, are now, with the backing of Iran, disrupting world trade and showcasing their support for Hammas. Not to mention the inherent weaknesses of the Palestinian Authority that have given Hamas the space and the means to impose its rule in Gaza but also to have an alarmingly increasing impact in the West Bank as well.

What can be done dear Colleagues? Should the EU and the international community continue to be a bystander to these interlinked regional crises or is it ready to address the core drivers of instability even if these include leaders with dreams of empires and caliphates, and engage in deeper and more sustained political involvement with key partners in the region? And if so, how can this be achieved?

It is undisputable that the only way to push for a political solution and achieve lasting peace and security is to set common goals with all nations of the region that accept the norms of international law. Goals that will benefit the populations that today are at risk, goals that are in line with much needed peace and security and prosperity for all the peoples of the region, be it of an economic, social, environmental or cultural nature. The point is to be actively engaged. The alternative is to let the forces of radicalism, extremism and ultimately terrorism fill the void of our lack of involvement with dire consequences for the region, Europe and the world as a whole.

Thank you.

Ms Elisabetta GARDINI

Italy, EC/DA

20:17:50

Speech not pronounced (Rules of Procedure, Art. 31.2), only available in Italian

Mr Christophe LACROIX

Belgium, SOC

20:17:53

Speech not pronounced (Rules of Procedure, Art. 31.2), only available in French

Ms Marietta KARAMANLI

France, SOC

20:17:58

Speech not pronounced (Rules of Procedure, Art. 31.2), only available in French

Ms Jill MORTIMER

United Kingdom, EC/DA

20:18:01

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)In 2005 Israel gave Gaza to the Palestinians in the land for peace arrangement. They left businesses, fertile land and opportunity for the Palestinian people to self govern and build a society. They elected Hamas. The businesses were destroyed and the international community has sent billions in aid to try and support Palestinian civilians since. Sadly much of that aid has been spent building an infrastructure for war. For the last nineteen years Hamas has used our money to build a network of terror tunnels from which to launch not only the frequent rocket attacks into Israeli territory but also a complex multi level system hundreds of miles long beneath schools, hospitals and houses to hide their combatants and wage a guerilla war while shielded by civilians. But during those nineteen years they did not just build a well equipped subterranean fortress they also planted the seeds of anti Jewish hate and brutal killing mentality into the minds of their young. In their schools, in their books and on their children’s television programs teddy bears and cartoon characters training them to kill. The 3000 young men who poured over the border into Israel on October 7th and carried out the most brutal and savage attacks on an innocent population were th