Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson refused to call the Israeli Defense Forces’ operation on the refugee camp Jabalia an “attack” even though the IDF itself had called it such. In a press conference in Oslo earlier this week, Bjarni described the event as “a matter of how you approach it.” The parties in Iceland’s coalition government seem to be having trouble agreeing on a stance on the ongoing conflict in Gaza.
At a press conference in Oslo, a reporter from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) asked Bjarni how he would describe the attack on Jabalia refugee camp carried out by Israeli forces. Bjarni responded: “If you’re asking me to give a response on an attack on a refugee camp, then you’re saying there was an attack on a refugee camp.” When the reporter rephrased his question, Bjarni continued: “It’s a matter of how you approach it. As I see it, there is a fight going on against terrorists. And anything that happens as we have seen in the media in the refugee camp is just horrific. Something that should always be avoided. It is against international law. But you cannot take this out of the context. That there are terrorists actively now fighting the Israelis, and they still are. And there is some response because of that. And we’ve seen many examples where the terrorists use civilians as shields and that is what makes things extremely complicated. So what we are seeing in the media is horrific. It’s extremely saddening. And this is why we are calling for a humanitarian pause to the conflict.”
Over 100,000 live in the Jabalia refugee camp, which has been the target of Israeli strikes since October 9. It was struck again on October 31, killing at least 47 Palestinians and trapping more than a hundred beneath the rubble. The Indonesia Hospital said most casualties were women and children. Israel asserted that it had killed a Hamas commander in the attacks.
Rift between coalition parties
The Icelandic government has faced criticism for abstaining from a UN vote on a ceasefire in Gaza last Friday. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir expressed regret over the lack of support for the resolution and admitted that communication between ministries was inadequate. Foreign Minister Bjarni Benediktsson stated that he had not been consulted on the vote in the United Nations General Assembly.
Iceland abstaining from the vote on a ceasefire is yet another example of how divided the parties within Iceland’s governing coalition are, Professor of Political Science Eiríkur Bergmann told RÚV. “This is, of course, a very unusual issue, that there has been such a rift in the government over an issue this serious,” Eiríkur stated.