June 13, 2024

The European Union has announced that it has suspended the payment of development aid to Palestinians after the armed group Hamas killed hundreds of Israelis in a multifront attack.

The EU said on Monday that it was putting all 691 million euros ($728m) of development aid to the Palestinians under review.

“The scale of terror and brutality against Israel and its people is a turning point,” Oliver Varhelyi, the commissioner for the EU’s neighbourhood and enlargement, said in a post on social media. “There can be no business as usual.”

The announcement appeared to take several member states by surprise, with Spain, Ireland and Luxembourg expressing dissent.

Spain said it “disagrees” with the EU decision to suspend development aid.

“[Foreign Minister] Jose Manuel Albares called European Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi to say he disagrees with this decision,” Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, adding that Albares called for this to be discussed at Tuesday’s meeting of the foreign ministers.

Ireland questioned the legitimacy of the decision.

“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,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.

“We are formally requesting the Commission to clarify the legal basis for this announcement.”

Luxembourg’s acting foreign minister Jean Asselborn said that his government did not support the suspension of aid.

There were also signs of concern within the European Commission itself, with crisis management commissioner Janez Lenarcic posting to stress that EU “humanitarian aid” would continue.

But the suspension is likely to be supported by other EU states, including the richest, Germany and its neighbour Austria, which earlier said they were suspending development aid for the Palestinian areas.

Hamas’s assault into southern Israel has killed at least 800 people and wounded thousands of others, the deadliest attack of its kind in several decades. The Palestinian group also captured more than 100 hostages in the lightning assault on Saturday. The assault included an attack on an Israeli music festival, where an Israeli rescue service said it has recovered more than 260 bodies.

More than 500 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air attacks on Gaza since Saturday and thousands of others wounded.

Israel has warned it will carry out a crushing assault on Hamas in Gaza, the besieged and densely populated enclave where 2.3 millions Palestinian reside. Defence Minister Yoav Gallant announced that he had ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza, cutting off access to food, electricity, water and fuel.

EU foreign ministers will meet for emergency talks on Tuesday, and Varhelyi said that “as the biggest donor of the Palestinians, the European Commission is putting its full development portfolio under review.”

Most of those funds had been reserved for the Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs some areas of the occupied West Bank.

The PA, which has a longstanding and bitter rivalry with Hamas, has previously worked with Israeli authorities to repress the group’s presence in the West Bank, a policy that has damaged the PA’s legitimacy in the eyes of many Palestinians who see it as complicit in the Israeli occupation.

The EU said in February that it would send 296 million euros ($312m) in financial assistance to help cover expenses for the PA, such as infrastructure projects and civil servant salaries.

The EU had previously said it would provide “up to 1.177 billion euros [$1.24bn] in financial support from 2021 to 2024”.

European Parliament member Evin Incir criticsed Varhelyi’s announcement and said that punishing all Palestinians for the attack by Hamas “will only fuel the ongoing violence”.

“Some of the money goes through the Palestinian Authority to the people in the country and some goes directly to different actors as civil society organizations. It doesn’t go to Hamas,” Incir told Al Jazeera.

“And this is something that Commissioner Varheyli knows very well. But he is trying to lie in the face of the European people and trying to connect the EU financial support to Hamas. It doesn’t go there. It goes through the Palestinian Authority.”

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