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EU looks to Israel for help with Palestinian aid

Written by: Staff

BRUSSELS, May 10 (Reuters) The European Union said today it would welcome any move by Israel to release tax revenues collected for the Palestinian Authority as part of a scheme to maintain essential services to Palestinians.

The quartet of Middle East peace negotiators -- the EU, the United States, Russia and the United Nations -- decided on Tuesday on a plan to resume their aid to Palestinians to avoid a possible collapse of the Hamas-led Authority.

Israel, which pushed successfully for a severing of financial assistance after the Islamic militant group won power in March, has also been withholding some million a month in tax receipts it collects on the Palestinians' behalf.

The EU's executive Commission said the aim of the ''temporary international mechanism'' agreed by the quartet was to create a channel for aid to maintain vital services such as education and health, without funds going through the Hamas-run Authority.

''We would certainly welcome a decision by Israel to resume the tax transfers and the customs duties,'' the Commission's foreign affairs spokeswoman Emma Udwin said.

''If the creation of this mechanism helps to make that possible for the government of Israel, that's also welcome.'' Udwin was unable to give a start-date for the mechanism.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment on what might happen to the tax revenues except to reiterate they would not be transferred to the Hamas-controlled Authority.

''As to mechanisms that could be established in the future, that is hypothetical,'' he said.

Today, Israel welcomed the decision to resume humanitarian support that bypassed Hamas.

The United States and EU cut off direct financial aid after Hamas refused to accept quartet demands to recognise Israel, renounce violence and abide by existing peace agreements.

The Wasia mediators agreed payments would be resumed for a three-month trial period through a ''transparent'' mechanism that has yet to be worked out but may involve the World Bank.

The EU agreed to take the lead role in working out the details and Udwin said this would be discussed by EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday.

The major foreign donor in the past to the Palestinian Authority, the bloc would continue to play its part in meeting the basic needs of Palestinians, she said, but added: ''This mechanism needs to function with more than just EU money in it. We do hope that other donors will use it...it could be a mechanism that could be used by Arab donors as well.'' REUTERS CH PC2111

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