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EU leaders back new Iran sanctions after attack on Israel

informal eu leaders' summit in brussels
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez talk during the informal European Union leaders' summit in Brussels, Belgium April 17, 2024. REUTERS/Yves Herman

European Union leaders decided to step up sanctions against Iran after Tehran’s missile and drone attack on Israel left world powers scrambling to prevent a wider conflict in the Middle East.

The summit in Brussels is the first meeting of the EU’s 27 national leaders since Saturday’s attack, more than six months into the war between Israel and the Iran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Israel has signalled it will retaliate but has not said how. EU leaders condemned the Iranian attack, reaffirmed their commitment to Israel’s security and called on all sides to prevent more tensions, including in Lebanon.

“We feel it’s very important to do everything to isolate Iran,” said summit chairman Charles Michel, adding the new sanctions against the Islamic Republic would target companies involved in the production of drones and missiles.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said it was important that Israel “does not respond with a massive attack of its own.”

Italy spoke separately ahead of G7 talks in favour of sanctions against arms suppliers linked to the attack against Israel, as well as those behind attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

Iran launched its assault in response to an April 1 strike on its embassy in Damascus which it blamed on Israel. Tel Aviv started its broader military offensive in Gaza after Hamas’ deadly attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

ISRAEL AND UKRAINE

EU foreign ministers are due to continue the sanctions work on Monday as the United States and its Western allies hope new steps against Iran will help limit any Israeli retaliation.

The EU already has multiple programmes that target Iran for human rights abuses, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and Tehran’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Germany, France and several EU states are looking at expanding a scheme that seeks to curb the supply of Iranian drones to Russia to include the provision of missiles and cover deliveries to Iranian proxies in the Middle East.

Belgium backed introducing sanctions against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps but Scholz said that required further legal checks. The bloc’s top diplomathas said that could only happen if a national authority in the EU found that the group had been involved in terrorist activity.

Analysts say Iran is unlikely to face more severe economic punishment because of worries about boosting oil prices and angering top buyer China.

With the Middle East capturing much of the EU’s attention, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed for more help in holding the line against Russia, which unleashed an invasion against its neighbour more than two years ago.

“Here in Ukraine, in our part of Europe, unfortunately, we do not have the level of defence that we all saw in the Middle East a few days ago,” Zelenskiy told the summit, after Israel and allies mostly shot down the incoming drones and missiles.

“It reflects our current key need – the need for air defence,” he said, according to an EU official, repeating his calls for speedier deliveries of the weapons and ammunition previously promised to Ukraine.

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