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    EU declines to criticise Russian aid for Hamas

    By Super
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    Brussels, Apr 18: The European Union declined to criticise Russia today for offering emergency aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority after Washington and Brussels cut off direct payments to pressure Hamas to recognise Israel.

    Russia is a member of the Quartet of international peace mediators, along with the United States, the EU and the United Nations. The Quartet vowed in January to review aid unless the Islamic militant movement recognised Israel, renounced violence and accepted past peace agreements.

    The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had offered urgent financial assistance to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a telephone call last Friday.

    A spokesman for the executive European Commission said he could not comment on what he called press reports of what other Quartet partners might or might not do.

    ''There is no reason as far as I know today to believe that Quartet unity has been undermined,'' spokesman Johannes Laitenberger told a news briefing. ''On the contrary, the intensity of contacts among Quartet members attests to the close ongoing coordination.'' He said the next meeting of Quartet ministers, set for May 9 in New York, would discuss how to address the Palestinians' needs and through which mechanisms.

    Abbas, whose secular Fatah movement supports peace talks with Israel but was trounced by Hamas in January elections, is due to visit the European Parliament on May 16, parliament officials today said.

    The visit, designed to highlight EU support for the president in his tussle with the Hamas-led government, will make up for a trip to Strasbourg aborted last month after an Israeli assault on a prison in the West Bank town of Jericho. The EU announced on April 10 that it had suspended direct aid to the Palestinian Authority but would continue humanitarian aid through other channels to meet the basic needs of the Palestinian population.

    EU officials said that put about 20 million euros on hold, as well as freezing payments through a World Bank trust fund for Palestinian civil servants' salaries.

    Western diplomats said there was a growing rift within the Quartet between Russia and the United States, with the EU closer to Washington's line but seeking to give Hamas a chance to gradually change its stance.

    The chairman of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, Elmar Brok of Germany, said Russia's announcement of aid sent the wrong signal to Hamas.

    ''It is not a good message, because it shows the Quartet does not follow the same line,'' Brok told Reuters.

    REUTERS

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