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Japan says halts new aid to Hamas-led government

Written by: Staff

TOKYO, Apr 18 (Reuters) Japan has decided to halt new aid to Palestinians via the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority until it becomes clear that Hamas is committed to the West Asia peace process, Foreign Ministry officials said Tuesday.

Japan -- which has given 840 million dollars in aid to Palestinians since 1993 -- will however continue to offer fresh humanitarian aid if the need arises, said Akira Chiba, assistant press secretary for the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

''Our stance is that we want to see whether it (Hamas) will adopt peaceful measures and participate in the peace process,'' Chiba said.

''Until we have a clearer picture ... there won't be a situation where new aid would be given,'' Chiba said.

Another Foreign Ministry official said that while Japan hadstopped offering new aid, it planned to continue pre-existing aid projects, such as repairing roads and building residential homes.

Japan would also provide humanitarian assistance such as food aid, if warranted, ministry officials said.

Chiba said Japan decided last month to give 6.0 million dollars in humanitarian food aid for Palestinians via international organisations such as the U.N. World Food Programme.

In order for Japan to resume full-fledged assistance, Hamas must, for example, alter its stance toward Israel, Chiba said.

''Hamas has clearly had a hostile policy toward Israel, so if that doesn't change we won't be in a situation where we can offer aid,'' Chiba said, although he added that Japan had not set any concrete conditions.

The United States and the European Union have frozen aid to the Hamas-led government because the Islamist group did not comply with their demand that it recognise Israel, renounce violence and abide by interim peace agreements.

The Palestinian economy has been crippled during years of fighting with Israel, and Palestinians are dependent on foreign aid totalling more than 1 billion dollars a year.

Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction, took office on March 29 after winning elections in January.

It faces a financial crisis and a struggle to revive an economy suffering from widespread poverty and corruption and high unemployment.

Reuters SHB GC1101

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