Egypt downplays Hamas win, urges EU not to cut aid

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s foreign minister on Sunday urged the European Union to continue aid to the Palestinians, saying the situation was not as “dim” as some fear after the landslide election victory of Islamic group Hamas.
In Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad met with Hamas’ political leader Khaled Mishaal and said the international community should “respect the Palestinian people’s choice” in the elections.

Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader in Gaza, said the movement will seek funding from Arab and Muslim countries and rejected threats of an aid suspension as “blackmail.” “We’ll be able to open a new channel through our other Arabic and Islamic countries and the international community, to help the Palestinian people without condition. We are looking for this money, but this money should not be conditioned,” he told CNN.

He denied that Hamas would turn to Iran — which along with Syria supports the movement — for aid.

“We are not taking money from Iran,” he said, calling allegations that Hamas would turn to Tehran an attempt to “intensify this state of hatred against Hamas.” EU foreign ministers are meeting Monday in Brussels to discuss whether to continue or suspend aid if Hamas — which the EU considers a terrorist organisation — maintains its stance of calling for the destruction of Israel and continuing attacks on Israelis.

The European Union currently maintains a multimillion dollar aid programme for the Palestinian Authority.

“I don’t think that the picture is as dim as some had indicated,” said Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in his country’s first official reaction to Hamas’ sweeping victory in last week’s parliament elections.

“This is only a new development and we should all follow it up to see what impact it will have on the situation between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Aboul Gheit told reporters.

Aboul Gheit said the European Union should not suspend its financial assistance to a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

“This means too much for the stability of the Palestinian situation. I hope they will continue it,” he said.

Hamas won 74 seats of the 132-member parliament in Wednesday’s elections.

Assad met Sunday with Mishaal, and congratulated him on the movement’s victory.

Syria hosts several radical Palestinian groups, including Hamas, and is under international pressure to eject them.

Assad discussed with Mishaal “the outcome of Palestinian elections, which were held in a fair and democratic way,” the Syrian news agency SANA said.

The two leaders call for Arab and international powers to respect “the will of the Palestinian people as expressed at polling stations and … deal with the outcome of elections as a representative of Palestinian legitimacy.” This year, aid from the European Commission will total around $304 million but will mostly be channelled through UN relief agencies and independent aid groups. Individual EU member states also make separate national aid contributions.

Oil rich Arab countries such Saudi Arabia also give millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian Authority. The funding also was called into question following Hamas’ win as the kingdom has been pushing for an Arab strategy for peace with Israel in return for land it has occupied since 1967.

Hamas Spokesman Osama Hamdan told the Associated Press that the group’s leaders will soon visit Egypt and other influential Arab countries for discussions on aid.

“They are giving this to the Palestinian people not to Hamas,” he said.

Check Also

Syrian refugees in Turkey living in fear amid Assad-Erdogan overtures

An incident in the central Anatolian city of Kayseri last week sparked a wave of …