Iran’s foreign minister cancels visit to Austria after Israeli flag was flown in Vienna amid Gaza flare-up

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has cancelled his trip to Austria after officials in Vienna raised Israeli flags in solidarity with Tel Aviv during its fight with Hamas in Gaza.

Zarif’s visit was canceled after Austria raised Israel's flag on its federal chancellery and foreign ministry buildings, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg’s spokesperson, Claudia Turtscher, confirmed to the media.

“We regret this. We take note of this,” Turtscher said.  

Zarif was due to meet with Schallenberg on Saturday. The Iranian minister has not commented on the situation so far.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the country “stands by Israel's side” in its most recent confrontation with the Palestinians in Gaza.

“The terrorist attacks on Israel must be condemned in the strongest terms!” Kurz wrote on Twitter, referring to a barrage of rockets launched at Israeli cities by the Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Israel responded to the rockets by bombing multiple targets in Gaza. Casualties have been reported on both sides of the conflict, with Israeli media saying around nine people have been killed in the country, and Gaza health officials reporting over 100 fatalities.

The escalation comes as Vienna hosts talks over the Iranian nuclear program. Iran's chief negotiator in Vienna, Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi, tweeted that it was “shocking & painful” to see an Israeli flag holstered over government buildings. He accused Israel of killing civilians in Gaza.

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Kurz’s support for Israel has sparked fierce arguments on social media. Some, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair Netanyahu, thanked the chancellor. Others complained that Kurz had not said anything about the Palestinian civilians who died in Israeli airstrikes.

The head of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), Norbert Hofer, argued that Vienna should rather stay neutral and leave room for the mediation of peace. “It's particularly important now to maintain neutrality and also to bring it to the forefront,” he said.

In another nod to Israel, Austria banned the Lebanon-based pro-Palestinian group Hezbollah in its entirety on Wednesday. The group “poses a serious threat to the stability in the region and to the security of Israel,” Schallenberg said. The EU has banned the military wing of Hezbollah, but not its political wing. The Israel Defense Forces reported that rockets were also fired from Lebanon this week.

The Israel-Gaza violence escalated rapidly after simmering tensions between the Jewish and Arab communities in East Jerusalem culminated in clashes between Palestinian activists and Israeli police at the iconic Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

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