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Austria defends pro-Israeli flag move amid Arab diplomatic protest

Following a formal protest by envoys of Arab states, Austria on Friday strongly defended its controversial move to hoist the Israeli flag over government buildings during Israel’s recent assault on Palestinian territories.

Talking to Austrian daily Die Presse, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg acknowledged that there has been a “paradigm shift” in the country’s stance on Middle East issues under Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who is pursuing a close alliance with Israel.

“Austria has deliberately realigned its policy here. It is also in the government program,” Schallenberg said.

“Austria is aware of its special historical responsibility towards Israel, and we have made a relevant clear policy change in our relations with Israel.”

A staunch ally of the Jewish state, Austria has faced strong criticism from Arab countries, especially after the government decided to fly the Israeli flag over the Federal Chancellery and Foreign Ministry buildings during Israel’s aerial onslaught on the Gaza Strip last month.

Chancellor Kurz had tweeted a photo with a caption that read: “Today the Israeli flag was hoisted on the roof of the Federal Chancellery as a sign of solidarity with #Israel … Together we stand by Israel’s side.”

Schallenberg had also voiced “strong support for the security of Israel.”

Ambassadors of Arab states in Vienna formally protested the move in a letter sent to the Austrian foreign minister.

They expressed “deep dismay” over Vienna’s “demonstrative support for an occupying power that violates international and humanitarian law.”

This attitude contradicts Austria’s traditional neutrality and also negates “the basic civil and human rights of the Palestinian population,” the letter said.

Israel’s latest assault on the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank last month killed at least 289 people, including women and children, and left a trail of destruction.

Health centers, schools, and media offices were among the structures that Israeli forces destroyed with impunity in an 11-day aerial offensive on the besieged Gaza Strip, which ended with an Egyptian-brokered truce that took effect in the early hours of May 21.

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