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Last Updated: Friday, 16 June 2006, 19:15 GMT 20:15 UK
Hamas criticises EU aid proposals
Hamas gunmen at a funeral in Gaza
Hamas has refused to renounce its calls for Israel's destruction
The Hamas government has criticised as "regrettable" an EU plan to provide urgent funding for the Palestinians while bypassing Hamas itself.

A spokesman for Hamas, which heads the Palestinian government, said the EU plan ignored democratic realities.

The EU on Friday agreed to resume aid to the Palestinians, suspended since Hamas came to power earlier this year.

The EU is the Palestinians' biggest donor and the aid freeze has prompted fears of a humanitarian crisis.

At a meeting in Brussels, EU leaders backed a plan providing money for healthcare, power supplies and support for poor families, while maintaining a funding freeze on the Hamas-led government.

We were, as a government and a people, expecting that the Europeans... would take a more positive position
Youssef Rizka
Hamas Information Minister

EU spokeswoman Emma Udwin said it was considering an initial payment of 100m euros (86m), and wanted to have the funding mechanism operating by early July.

Aid from the EU to the Palestinians amounts to some 500m euros (342m) every year.

Some of the funds were frozen in April after Palestinian elections brought to power Hamas, a militant group that has refused to renounce violence or recognise Israel and is regarded as a terrorist organisation by the EU and US.

'Human catastrophe'

The Hamas Information Minister, Youssef Rizka, criticised the new EU funding plan, saying it had bowed to US pressure by trying to bypass Hamas.

"This is regrettable," Mr Rizka told the Associated Press news agency.

Palestinian boy with the words "I'm hungry" in a protest against the cutting of aid
The aid freeze has hit the Palestinian territories hard

"We were, as a government and a people, expecting that the Europeans, who have more knowledge of the Palestinian people and reality, would take a more positive position."

He said the funding plan would broaden the gap between Hamas, the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority's presidency, held by the Fatah faction.

Another Hamas official, parliamentary spokesman Salah al-Bardawil, said the EU move was "a step in the right direction even though we know this money will not reach the government of Hamas".

"It would be better for the EU to deal with the democratically elected government directly because that would indicate respect for democracy," Mr Bardawil said.

Saeb Erekat, a Fatah lawmaker and ally of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said the EU could help alleviate a "human catastrophe".

But he too criticised the plan for failing to provide for the salaries of Palestinian Authority workers.

There can be no business as usual with a government that has not yet accepted the fundamental principle of peace
Benita Ferrero-Waldner
EU External Relations Commissioner

"I had hoped that the mechanism would involve the salaries of the 160,000 workers. We don't want to turn our society into a welfare society," Mr Erekat is quoted by the AP news agency as saying.

The EU statement did not mention paying Palestinian government workers, which is opposed by Israel, but it did refer to "social allowances" which would allow payments to health workers and families in need.

About 165,000 government employees - including teachers, health workers and security personnel - have not been paid for three months as a result of the aid freeze.

EU demands

In a statement on the aid plan, the 25-member EU said it would contribute a "substantial amount" via an international mechanism bypassing Hamas.

The EU statement said the plan was drawn up in consultation with other members of the "Quartet" of Middle East peace brokers - the US, Russia and the UN.

Ms Udwin said she expected final approval from the Quartet and other donors "within days".

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said: "We Europeans are determined to play our part in preventing a humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories."

Ms Ferrero-Waldner will visit the region on Monday and Tuesday next week for meetings with Mr Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The fund for paying the Palestinians will be managed by the World Bank and the EU, working with the office of Mr Abbas, whose Fatah movement is the main political rival of Hamas.

EU leaders insisted there would be no contact with Hamas unless it renounced violence, recognised Israel and respected existing peace agreements.

"There can be no business as usual with a government that has not yet accepted the fundamental principle of peace," Ms Ferrero-Waldner said.

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