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Israel to decide on Palestinian aid once plan ready

Written by: Staff

LUXEMBOURG, June 13 (Reuters) Israel will decide whether to release tens of millions of dollars of tax revenues into an international plan to aid Palestinians once the plan is complete, its Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said today.

Livni said after meeting EU officials drawing up the plan agreed in principle by the Quartet of West Asia peace brokers last month that Israel saw a need to help ordinary Palestinians but the money must not go through the Hamas-led government.

She said there were no differences with the EU on this, but added: ''We can have some differences when it comes to the best ways to implement this policy on a daily basis.'' The European Union, charged with putting together the aid plan, has urged Israel to release the 55 million dollars a month in tax revenues it collects on the Palestinians' behalf and has been withholding since Hamas came to power.

Asked at a news conference whether Israel would do this, Livni said it was waiting for the final plan. ''I don't like to enter into details because it is too early to know,'' she said.

''We are waiting for the conclusions of these discussions ... So after the EU will come, the international community as such, will come to a conclusion what is the right mechanism, Israel will take its own decision about the taxpayers' money.'' She said there were some ''questions'' when it came to payments of salaries -- which Israel has opposed -- ''but this is part of the decision the EU is taking with the international community, with the World Bank, with the United States''.

Yesterday, the European Commission acknowledged that details of the plan remained in dispute but said it hoped the scheme could be launched by the end of June or the start of July.

The EU's executive Commission has proposed using the plan to provide equipment, especially to the health sector, and to pay utilities bills and allowances for essential service workers.

However, Western diplomats in Jerusalem said on Sunday Washington had been pressing the European Union to adopt a US alternative calling for welfare payments to poor Palestinians, who could use the money to cover doctors' bills and buy food.

EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner yesterday accepted there was disagreement in the Quartet -- the United States, the EU, Russia and the United Nations -- on allowances and assistance to those in greatest need.

Livni said Israel was already using part of the tax money for Palestinian humanitarian needs such as electricity and water and care of Palestinian children in Israeli hospitals.

Major Western donors froze direct aid to the Palestinian government after Hamas Islamists won January elections and refused to recognise Israel, renounce violence or embrace interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deals.

Fears of a humanitarian crisis prompted them to consider ways of channelling aid to the most needy while bypassing Hamas.

One EU official said after EU foreign ministers discussed the plan in Luxembourg yesterday that it would be ''difficult'' to get the United States to participate, but another said discussions with the Americans were continuing.


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