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EU sends Palestinians $145M

Associated Press
Published February 28, 2006

BRUSSELS - The European Union agreed Monday to grant $145-million in urgent aid to the Palestinians before a government led by the Islamic militant group Hamas takes power, a move aimed at preventing a financial collapse that could add to the chaos in the Middle East.

But the EU kept silent on what it would do once Hamas assumes control of the Palestinian government.

Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country now holds the EU presidency, said the $145-million will not change the EU demand that Hamas must "accept the principles of nonviolence, recognize Israel's right to exist" and honor existing accords that the Palestinians and Israel have reached over the years.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said the aid was required to avoid "economic chaos" from paralyzing the Palestinian Authority. It was also designed to show European support for the Palestinians remains undiminished at least until Hamas establishes its control.

The EU's decision was welcomed by the U.S. State Department.

"It is a sign that we are all working together," spokesman Adam Ereli said in Washington. "We are all working together to prevent a collapse of the interim (Palestinian Authority) government and to support the Palestinian people."

The Bush administration, which is not providing assistance to the Palestinian Authority this year, is due to announce shortly whether it will contribute to Palestinian projects.

Officials said the emergency EU aid package includes:

--$48-million to pay for energy and other essential utility bills. These bills will be paid by the EU directly to the utilities, based on invoices validated by an international audit firm.

--$76-million for health and education projects to be paid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides education, health care, social services and emergency aid for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

--$21-million for salaries of Palestinian Authority workers. This money will come from $83-million the EU paid into a World Bank trust fund in 2005, only half of which was spent as the Palestinian Authority missed key good governance goals last year.

Israel won't talk peace with Palestinian leader

JERUSALEM - Israel said Monday it will not hold peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas because he is powerless to enforce agreements while the Islamic militant group Hamas controls his government.

The moment Abbas, widely known as Abu Mazen, appointed Hamas to form the new government, the Palestinian Authority became "illegitimate," Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told Israel Army Radio on Monday.

Israel does not want to be in a situation in which it is dealing with Abbas, who is "more moderate ... but is powerless to deliver the goods or enforce it on the Palestinian Authority," Livni said.

"There were elections, the Hamas won. All the attempts to embrace Abu Mazen ... will not help," Livni said.

[Last modified February 28, 2006, 00:35:17]

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