Hamas, the group that rules Gaza, should not be confused with all Palestinians, Spain’s top diplomat has said as the country expresses opposition to the proposed suspension of European Union aid to the Palestinian territories.
The Spanish Acting Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said on Tuesday that Palestinian territories would likely need more aid soon after Hamas’s Saturday attack on Israel and Israel’s subsequent bombardment of the Gaza Strip.
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“This cooperation must continue; we cannot confuse Hamas, which is in the list of EU’s terrorist groups, with the Palestinian population, or the Palestinian Authority or the United Nation’s organisations on the ground,” Albares said in an interview with Spanish radio Cadena SER.
EU foreign ministers will meet on the sidelines of a meeting in Oman on the situation in Israel and Gaza to discuss the funding issue on Tuesday after European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi said on Monday on social media platform X that 691 million euros ($728m) in aid had been suspended.
The European Commission contradicted Varhelyi’s statement, saying that payments were not suspended and that it was merely reviewing aid to Palestinian territories.
Officials also stressed that the review applies only to development funding, not to the separate EU humanitarian aid budget for Palestinians.
Even though countries such as Austria and Germany have announced the end of funding to Palestinian territories, others such as Spain, France and Luxembourg consider the aid flow crucial for the civilian population.
Suspending aid would be “counterproductive”, Albares said.
France’s foreign ministry also said it was “not in favour of suspending aid which directly benefits the Palestinian populations”, adding that it had “made this known to the EU Commission”.
Last year, France contributed 95 million euros ($101m) in aid to the Palestinians in Gaza, annexed east Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank run by the Palestinian Authority, and refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
“This aid is focused on supporting the Palestinian populations, in water, health, food security and education,” added the ministry.
Distributed through the United Nations, it “directly benefits the Palestinian people” and is “fully in line with the engagements of France”, the ministry added.
Luxembourg’s Acting Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn also insisted that his government did not support the suspension of aid.
“Two million people live in Gaza. They are also hostages of Hamas. With these methods, we push them into the arms of terrorists,” he said.
“We are the largest donor to Gaza. This help is important for young people. This is not money for Hamas. It is for the people of Gaza,” he told the AFP news agency.
But the suspension may be supported by other EU states, including the richest, Germany, which announced that it was suspending its own direct aid to the Palestinians.
“It is being examined, that is, temporarily suspended,” said a spokeswoman from the German ministry for economic cooperation and development.
The EU announced in February it was contributing 296 million euros for the 2022 budget to help the Palestinian Authority pay civil servant salaries, pensions, healthcare and infrastructure projects.
The bloc says it would provide “up to 1.177 billion euros in financial support from 2021 to 2024”.
A European Commission spokeswoman insisted earlier on Monday EU aid “does not fund Hamas or any other terrorist organisation activities, either directly or indirectly”.