Brussels, Apr 18 (AP) European Union leaders debated ways to ramp up sanctions against Iran at a summit on Wednesday as concern grows that Tehran's unprecedented attack on Israel could fuel a wider war in the Middle East. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reminded the gathering that his country still badly needs support to combat Russia's invasion.

French President Emmanuel Macron urged his EU counterparts in Brussels to “adapt” and “expand” sanctions against Iran.

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The EU has already slapped sanctions on the Islamic Republic but Macron said new measures should target “those who are helping to produce the missiles and drones that were used" in the weekend attack.

According to a draft statement prepared for the meeting also focusing on the war in Ukraine and ways to boost the bloc's economic competitiveness, the leaders are to warn that “the EU is ready to take further restrictive measures against Iran, notably in relation to unmanned aerial vehicles and missiles.”

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The statement also calls “on Iran and its proxies to cease all attacks" and urges all sides to exercise "utmost restraint and to refrain from any action that may increase tensions in the region.”

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has tasked his staff with drawing up new measures but expanding sanctions, however, is not a simple step — the EU has already targeted those responsible for making drones that Iran has sold to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine.

The idea is to expand that list to include missiles, although there is no evidence that Iran has sold missiles to Russia. Borrell said that proxy forces backed by Iran in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria could also be targeted with sanctions.

Some seek sanctions on those providing Iran with the components to make drones, measures already approved in July 2023. Borrell said his team would look at whether to expand the list of components, or develop ways to stop the sanctions from being circumvented.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, said his position is that the "Iranian Revolutionary Guard should be put on the sanctions list” and that this “would be a very important signal.”

But that would pose legal challenges. Borrell said an EU member country would have to provide evidence that the Revolutionary Guard has been involved in acts of terrorism against it — something that none have so far claimed.

The United States is also preparing new sanctions targeting Iran's missile and drone program and entities supporting the Revolutionary Guard and Iran's Defence Ministry, according to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

EU leaders in Brussels are also expected to renew their call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and the release of hostages, “as well as increasing humanitarian aid at scale to Palestinians in need.”

Regional tensions have mounted since the Oct. 7 start of the latest Israel-Hamas war, when Palestinian militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups, backed by Iran, carried out a devastating cross-border attack that killed 1,200 people in Israel and seized 250 as hostages. Israel responded with an offensive in Gaza that has caused widespread devastation and killed over 33,800 people, according to Gaza's health officials.

Russia's two-year war in Ukraine was also on the agenda, with Zelenskyy addressing the Brussels meeting remotely and repeating his pleas for more air defense systems, including Patriot missile systems.

“They are needed in Ukraine right now, needed to stop (Russian President Vladimir) Putin from relying on terrorist methods," he said, according to a transcript provided by the EU. Zelensky also asked for more “weapons for our soldiers” and “shells for artillery. Vehicles. Drones. Everything that helps to hold the front line.”

Since launched the February 2022 full-scale invasion, Russia has captured nearly a quarter of Ukraine.

Ukranian soldiers are outnumbered, outgunned and in desperate need of more troops and ammunition while doubt is increasing about Western military aid. Zelenskyy said repeatedly Ukraine must bolster its air defenses and replenish its ammunition supplies amid Russian pushes along the front line.

“Putin now hopes that he will succeed in his counteroffensive, and the only root of this hope is the shortage of weapons among our soldiers,” Zelenskyy said.

Talks on Thursday will focus on how to bolster the EU's competitiveness and improve the single market. The leaders will discuss a proposal by former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta for an EU-wide effort to subsidise industry in response to the Biden administration's support for investment in environmentally friendly technology, and China's subsidies for electric cars and solar panels.

The European Commission and member countries asked Letta to draft the report last year amid widespread concern that the U.S. subsidies, which favor domestic production in America, are drawing investment from Europe and threatening the loss of industrial jobs on the continent.

EU rules restrict government aid to companies to avoid distorting business competition across the bloc's free trade zone. One solution, Letta proposed, is to demand countries use a chunk of such aid for EU-wide projects instead of purely national ones. (AP)

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