EU leaders urge Israel to skip Rafah ground offensive

European Union leaders have called on Israel to forgo a ground offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah to avoid escalating the loss of life and disrupting humanitarian aid efforts.

The EU leaders made the appeal at a European Council summit in Belgium on Thursday. The meeting covered issues including support for Ukraine and severe shortages of food and medicine in Gaza.

The council issued conclusions saying it "is appalled by the unprecedented loss of civilian lives and the critical humanitarian situation," and called for "an immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire."

The document also says an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah "would worsen the already catastrophic humanitarian situation and prevent urgently needed provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance."

There are about 1.5 million people in Rafah, including evacuees from other parts of the enclave. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suggested that he is determined to go ahead with a ground assault there.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters after the meeting that "Gaza is on the verge of famine." She said, "Full, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access into Gaza via all routes is essential."