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EU leaving door open for Hamas change-aide

Written by: Staff

BRUSSELS, Mar 20 (Reuters) The European Union will leave the door open for a Palestinian government led by the Hamas militant movement to change its stance on Israel, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner today said.

Giving the 25-nation bloc's first reaction to the presentation of a Hamas-led government to President Mahmoud Abbas, she told reporters: ''We are leaving the door open for positive change but we have to make clear we cannot go soft on our principles.'' The Quartet of peace mediators -- the United States, the EU, Russia and the United Nations -- has said Hamas must recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept past peace agreements or risk losing aid. The EU is the Palestinian's biggest donor with 500 million euros of annual transfers.

''They (the proposed Palestinian ministers) seem to be drawn from a narrow Hamas base but we will have to judge them on what they do and say in the end,'' Ferrero-Waldner said.

She was speaking at an event to mark the payment of some 64 million euros of EU funds to the U N Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, part of a short-term cash lifeline announced on February 27.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, speaking on arrival for talks with his EU counterparts, said the EU had not set a deadline for Hamas to change its stance or lose European aid.

''It's not a question of how long,'' Straw told reporters.

''So far, the European Union and invididual donors...have all carried on paying money to the Palestinians, including to the Palestinian Authority. We want to go on doing that. We don't want to punish the Palestinian people for their votes at all.'' DKS KP1838

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