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9 Oct, 2023 23:04

EU backtracks on Palestine aid

The decision directly contradicts a unilateral announcement by a commissioner on cutting aid to Palestine
EU backtracks on Palestine aid

The European Union will not suspend aid payments to the Palestinian Authority, its foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday evening, directly contradicting an earlier announcement by Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi.

“The review of the EU’s assistance for Palestine announced by the European Commission will not suspend the due payments,” Borrell said in a statement, adding that this would have amounted to “punishing all the Palestinian people,” damaged the EU interests in the region, and “only further emboldened terrorists.”

Several hours earlier, Varhelyi announced that the “scale of terror and brutality against Israel and its people” by Hamas was a “turning point” for the bloc, and that “there can be no business as usual” going forward. He said the European Commission would put €691 million ($728.8 million) in aid to the Palestinian Authority under review and suspend all payments right away.

Varhelyi’s announcement came two days into clashes between the Palestinian militant movement Hamas and the Israeli military, which has claimed hundreds of lives on both sides. Shortly afterwards, however, Israel ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza, cutting off the supply of water, food and electricity to more than 2 million Palestinians in the territory.

Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn was reportedly the first senior European official to challenge Varhelyi’s proclamation, saying the decision must be made by the 27 member states and that foreign ministers were due to discuss the matter on Tuesday.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares called Varhelyi and conveyed “his disagreement with the decision, which the foreign ministers were not aware of,” broadcaster ABC reported, citing unnamed government officials.

The Irish foreign ministry also directly questioned the legal basis for the unilateral decision made by Varhelyi.

Janez Lenarcic, the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, also contradicted his Hungarian colleague, saying that, while he “most strongly” condemns Hamas, EU aid “will continue as long as needed.”

In a press release “clarifying” Varhelyi’s remarks, the European Commission said it was “launching an urgent review of the EU’s assistance for Palestine,” but was not suspending any payments because “there were no payments foreseen.”

“The objective of this review is to ensure that no EU funding indirectly enables any terrorist organization to carry out attacks against Israel. The Commission will equally review if, in light of the changed circumstances on the ground, its support programs to the Palestinian population and the Palestinian Authority need to be adjusted,” the statement added.