Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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EU reviews aid for Palestinians

The EU backtracked on Monday from its announcement to suspend aid to Palestine in response to a Hamas attack on Israel, following complaints from EU countries that the bloc’s executive branch had overreached.

The confusion began after Oliver Varhely, the EU’s top neighbourhood relations official, said the European Commission was reviewing its entire €691 million ($729 million) in development aid to the Palestinians. Oliver Varhely, who is also European Commissioner for Neighbourhoods and Enlargement, said on social media X that all payments were “immediately suspended”.

The announcement perplexed many governments, which warned against cutting off aid to the detriment of Palestinian civilians and questioned whether the Commission had the authority to make such a decision. This EU action was unexpected, as officials had previously said that aid to the Palestinians would be discussed at an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers on Tuesday.

EU governments have expressed their dismay on the sidelines over the issue, but Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg have been outspoken on the matter. A spokesperson for Ireland’s foreign ministry said:

Our understanding is that there is no legal basis for a unilateral decision of this kind by an individual Commissioner and we do not support a suspension of aid.

Five hours after Varhelyi’s report in X, the Commission issued a statement confirming the start of urgent consideration of aid, but said, “as there were no payments foreseen, there will be no suspension of payments “.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell sowed further confusion by issuing a statement that the EU would not suspend “payments due” – immediately after the Commission said no payments were expected.

The EU’s confusion reflected mixed views within the 27-member bloc on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, although its members had earlier unanimously condemned Saturday’s attack.

Europe is a major source of aid to the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, where the UN estimates some 2.1 million people, including 1 million children, are in need of humanitarian assistance. The total amount of EU aid for the Palestinian people under the 2022 budget was 296 million euros.

Gaza-based Hamas has fired a barrage of rockets at Israel, calling it Operation Al-Aqsa Flood. Hamas officials say their operation was in response to the storming of the Al Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem and increased settler violence. In response, the Israeli army launched Operation Iron Swords against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, killing 493 Palestinians and injuring at least 2,751. According to the Israeli Ministry of Health, at least 700 Israelis were killed and more than 2,300 injured in the fighting.

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