By Andrew Gray
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday made a thinly veiled call on the U.S. to cut arms supplies to Israel due to high civilian casualties in its war in Gaza.
Borrell recalled that U.S. President Joe Biden said last week that Israel's response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack had been "over the top" and U.S. and other Western officials had repeatedly said too many civilians were being killed in Gaza.
"Well, if you believe that too many people are being killed, maybe you should provide less arms in order to prevent so many people being killed," Borrell told reporters after a meeting of EU development aid ministers in Brussels.
"If the international community believes that this is a slaughter, that too many people are being killed, maybe we have to think about the provision of arms," he added.
The U.S. is Israel's most important foreign arms provider. It gives Israel $3.8 billion in military aid annually, ranging from fighter jets to powerful bombs. Washington has so far not heeded any pleas to cut such aid.
Asked at a news briefing about Borrell's comments and whether the U.S. is considering to cut military aid to Israel, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller defended the U.S. policy, saying it gave the administration the "maximum ability" to be successful in influencing Israel.
"We have not made the assessment that ... that is a step that would be more impactful than the steps that we have already taken," Miller said.
Borrell also noted that a Dutch court on Monday ordered the government of the Netherlands to block all exports of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel over concerns they were being used in violations of international law in the Gaza war.
Borrell said it was contradictory for countries to repeatedly declare that Israel was killing too many civilians in Gaza but do nothing concrete to prevent the killing.
Israel has insisted it takes extensive measures to protect civilians but is forced to conduct military operations in civilian areas as Hamas, the Palestinian militant group responsible for the Oct. 7 attack, operates there.
In his remarks in Brussels, Borrell also sharply criticised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying he was not listening to pleas to do more to protect civilians.
"Everybody goes to Tel Aviv, begging 'please don't do that, protect civilians, don't kill so many'. How many is too many? What is the standard?" Borrell said, appearing angry and emotional. "Netanyahu doesn't listen (to) anyone."
Borrell said Netanyahu had been calling for an evacuation of Palestinian civilians from the Rafah area of Gaza - the last part of the enclave where people have found refuge - but the veteran Spanish politician questioned how this could be done.
"They are going to evacuate? Where? To the moon? Where are they going to evacuate these people?" he said.
(Reporting by Andrew Gray, writing by Andrew Gray and Julia Payne, Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in WashingtonEditing by Charlotte Van Campenhout, Toby Chopra and Marguerita Choy)