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EU to throw weight behind Abbas on Europe trip

Written by: Staff
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BRUSSELS, March 2 (Reuters) The European Union will host Mahmoud Abbas for talks later this month in a demonstrative gesture of support for the Palestinian president, EU officials said today.

Islamic militant group Hamas's victory over Abbas's Fatah faction in a January. 25 election prompted Israel to brand the moderate leader irrelevant and a ''fig leaf'' for Hamas, which has vowed to seek the destruction of the Jewish state.

But the EU sees Abbas as vital to resolving the stand-off between Hamas and foreign donors such as itself over the group's refusal so far to soften its stance or renounce violence.

''There will be an exchange of views on the make-up of the government and yes, of course we will show our support for him,'' said an EU official of the trip, scheduled for around March 15.

Full details of Abbas's itinerary were not immediately available but EU officials said he would deliver a keynote speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg and meet EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana for talks in Brussels.

The officials, who requested anonymity, understood that Abbas had been invited by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to come to Berlin, and that he may also visit other EU capitals.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni warned foreign donors to the Palestinians last week against latching on to Abbas as the acceptable side of an administration dominated by Hamas, insisting he would have little influence in the new government.

US Assistant Secretary of State David Welch nonetheless declared Washington's firm support for Abbas at the weekend after talks with him in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The EU threw the Palestinians a short term aid lifeline of 120 million euros this week to stave off imminent financial collapse.

But the Palestinians' largest donor left open what would happen to EU aid once Hamas comes to power.

The Quartet of international mediators -- the EU, the United States, Russia and the United Nations -- have warned Hamas that future aid could be cut off if it does not renounce violence and recognise Israel's right to exist.

However the EU is reluctant to turn off the taps altogether and sees Abbas's office as a way of channelling cash through to aid projects while bypassing a Hamas-led government.

REUTERS OM RN1932

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