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US Sending Emergency Medical Aid to Palestinians


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the United States is sending $10 million in emergency medical aid to the Palestinians, but is maintaining its hard line against direct aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government. Rice held talks at the United Nations in New York Tuesday with other members of the international Middle East Quartet and Arab foreign ministers.

The new U.S. commitment of emergency medical aid came amid reports of worsening humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian areas, and pressure from other Quartet members for action to ease the Palestinian Authority's financial crisis.

But in a talk with reporters in between morning and afternoon Quartet meetings, Secretary Rice insisted again that the economic dilemma is of the Hamas-led Palestinian government's own making, because it has spurned calls from the Quartet and others to accept international terms for Middle East peacemaking.

"No one wants to have to deal with a Palestinian government that, when there is a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, finds that reason to celebrate," said Ms. Rice. "That simply is not the appropriate course. And so we will talk about how to make clear that the responsibility for the situation in the Palestinian territories is indeed the responsibility of the Palestinian government, but what we can do also to alleviate the circumstances in which the Palestinian people find themselves."

Shortly after the Hamas election victory in January, the Quartet - the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - said donors should not assist the Hamas-led government unless it accepted Israel's right to exist, renounced violence and embraced previous Palestinian commitments including the Quartet's 2003 peace road map.

Hamas, responsible for scores of anti-Israeli suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism in past years, has maintained a cease-fire with Israel but has spurned the terms set by the Quartet.

With the Palestinian economy in a tailspin because of a lack of outside aid, some Quartet members and others have pressed for an easing of curbs on assistance, perhaps allowing salaries of Palestinian civil servants to be paid through a fund run by the World Bank.

Secretary Rice said no one wants to see the Palestinian people suffer, and said the Bush administration is sending the $10 million worth of medical supplies because of its concern about the humanitarian situation in the West Bank and Gaza.

But she said Hamas has a choice to make, and if it is to govern effectively it will have to come into line with peacemaking terms she said were not just of the Quartet but the consensus of the international community, including the Arab League.

As the Quartet convened, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appealed for an end to what he termed an economic boycott against the Palestinian people.

Palestinian officials say banks are refusing to deal with the Palestinian Authority out of fear of U.S. anti-terrorism sanctions, and that recent aid pledges by several Arab countries and Iran cannot be delivered.

The Quartet ministers met Tuesday morning with foreign ministers of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt and held private consultations later.

European Union External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told reporters the EU agrees with Washington that the Palestinian government bears the primary blame for the economic situation. But she said others have responsibility, notably Israel, which she said should stop impounding tax and customs money owed to the Palestinian Authority.

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