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The European Union’s (EU) 27 leaders called on Thursday for an "immediate humanitarian pause" in Gaza and urged Israel not to launch a major ground offensive in the city of Rafah, AFP reported.

"The European Council calls for an immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire," the leaders said after meeting in Brussels, while also calling for "the unconditional release of all hostages".

The Council "urges the Israeli government not to undertake a ground operation in Rafah, which would worsen the already catastrophic humanitarian situation and prevent the urgently needed provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance", they added in their conclusions.

The European Union has struggled for a united response on Israel's military operation following the October 7 attack by Hamas.

The leaders said on Thursday they were "deeply concerned about the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza and its disproportionate effect on civilians, particularly children, as well as the imminent risk of famine caused by the insufficient entry of aid into Gaza".

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has several times been critical of Israel over its war in Gaza. In January, he asserted that Israel had "created" and "financed" Hamas. Several weeks ago, he repeated that claim when pressed about it by reporters.

Last week, Borrell levelled new accusations at Israel, telling the UN Security Council that hunger was being used as a "war arm" and criticizing the lack of aid entering Gaza as a "manmade" disaster.