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Abbas appeals for end to foreign aid freeze

Written by: Staff

RAMALLAH, West Bank, May 10 (Reuters) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has urged Middle East peace brokers to end a foreign aid freeze on the Hamas-led government, warning of more instability in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The ''Quartet'' of peace brokers agreed yesterday at the United Nations to channel aid to the Palestinians for a three-month trial period through an ''international mechanism''.

This had yet to be fully decided on, but U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said it should start as soon as possible.

Senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat told Reuters the plan did not go far enough.

''We had hoped the Quartet would announce immediate continuation of aid to the Palestinian people because the continuation of the suspension of aid is leading to a humanitarian catastrophe,'' he said.

In a letter to the Quartet obtained by Reuters, Abbas appealed for funds to pay salaries, overdue since March, to 165,000 workers employed by the Palestinian Authority.

''Besides the potential humanitarian crisis resulting from the general deterioration of the economic situation, inability to pay salaries might have deep destabilising political and security implications,'' Abbas wrote in the letter.

Underscoring current tensions 12 people were wounded in a second day of gun battles in the Gaza Strip between militant group Hamas, which rejects Abbas's vision of a negotiated peace with Israel, and Abbas's more secular Fatah faction.

The internal violence is fuelled by a power struggle between Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas over control of security forces following the January 25 election that Hamas won.

The clashes have raised fears of civil war.

Local, regional and international banks, fearful of facing U.S. anti-terrorism sanctions and lawsuits, have refused to deal with the Authority, creating a liquidity crisis.

AID LIFELINE The group of international mediators -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- agreed on a way to channel aid after a day of talks in which Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia warned of a civil war if the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority was left to collapse.

The United States said any such move would have to be limited in scope and mechanism so aid would not reach the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

Israel and major donor nations have demanded Hamas renounce violence, recognise the Jewish state's right to exist and embrace existing peace deals.

Hamas is sworn to Israel's destruction but has largely abided by a truce for more than a year. It says talks with the Israeli government would be a waste of time.

Abbas, in his letter to the Quartet, also asked the forum to continue to base Middle East peacemaking on the ''road map'' it sponsored. The plan charts reciprocal steps leading to a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Abbas told the peace brokers he rejected ''unilateral moves'', a reference to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan to set Israel's borders by 2010 with or without Palestinian agreement.

In remarks to reporters, Abbas called for a meeting with Olmert and a resumption of talks to resume road map negotiations.

Peace talks have been frozen for years amid Israeli-Palestinian violence. Both sides failed to carry out road map commitments that included the disarming of Palestinian militant groups and an end to Israeli settlement expansion.

Abbas told reporters the surge in violence between Fatah and Hamas, in which three gunmen were killed on Monday, was ''unfortunate and unacceptable''. Yesterday, 12 people were injured in further clashes, including two Fatah supporters hit by gunfire during a funeral for two of those killed on Monday.

In a speech in Gaza, Haniyeh said he had asked Fatah and Hamas leaders ''to put an end to these sad events'' and keep gunmen under control.

Reuters PDS VP0620

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