Hamas faces EU threat

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (Reuters) — The European Union could not fund a Hamas-run Palestinian Authority if it did not renounce violence and recognise Israel, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Israel on Sunday.
It was the most explicit threat to cut aid from Europe, the biggest donor to the Palestinians, since Islamic group Hamas won a shock victory in parliamentary elections last week.

The United States has also threatened to block funding.

Hamas, expected to form the new government, denounces Western threats to cut aid as blackmail and has rejected calls to disarm and end its formal commitment to destroy Israel.

“Such a Palestinian Authority cannot be directly supported by money from the EU,” said Merkel, standing beside Israel’s interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem at the start of her first visit to the region.

Diplomatic sources said Merkel consulted other European leaders before the two-day trip. Last year, the European Union gave the Palestinian Authority 500 million euros ($615 million), money vital for its survival.

In Washington, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist also said Congress would cut funding unless Hamas changed, echoing President George W. Bush’s pledge to withhold funds.

The foreign support buttressed Olmert’s stand on boycotting any Palestinian government including Hamas members unless the group stops fighting and accepts all agreements that Palestinian leaders have signed.

Olmert told his Cabinet that he had called on the world to follow a similar boycott.

He said he delivered that message in telephone calls to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, King Abdullah and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

“These principles are acceptable to the international community. I do not intend to make any compromise on this matter,” said Olmert.

Israel threatens payments

Olmert said that Israel was considering whether to delay paying tax money collected on behalf of the Palestinians.

Political sources said Israel might withhold a monthly payment that is due to be made this week.

Merkel is the first European Union leader to visit the area since the Palestinian vote swept out President Mahmoud Abbas’ long-dominant Fateh movement. She is shunning Hamas, but will meet Abbas in Ramallah on Monday.

Fateh leaders have so far rejected joining any coalition with Hamas, whose anti-corruption platform, charity network and nearly 60 suicide bombings in Israel since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000, propelled it to victory.

Hamas has largely abided by a ceasefire Abbas reached with Israel, and Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz was quoted in media reports as saying the Islamic group was “behaving responsibly” and would likely continue to curb attacks.

Israel and the Palestinians have not held peace talks in five years and the US-backed “roadmap” to a settlement has been stalled by violence on both sides.

In Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, a local Hamas leader, Mahmoud Ramahi, ruled out political talks with Israel but not contacts with Israeli officials on public works and health issues affecting daily life.

“We were forced to do these things in the past because we live under occupation. We will still live under occupation even if we are in the government,” Ramahi said.

Turmoil in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip since the election landslide has fuelled fears of inter-Palestinian strife as Hamas tries to form a government and possibly take over security forces packed with Fateh loyalists.

Final results issued on Sunday by the Central Elections Commission revised from 76 to 74 the number of seats Hamas won in the 132-member parliament compared with 45 for Fateh.

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