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EU Cuts Off Aid to Hamas-Led Government

The European Union temporarily cut off Friday direct aid to the Hamas-controlled Palestinian government because of the groups refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, European Union spokeswoman Emma Udwin said the organization had been waiting to see if Hamas would meet certain principles for future funding, following its January victory in Palestinian elections.

"Whether Hamas had agreed to the principles of non-violence, recognition of the state of Israel and acceptance of existing agreements," she said. "Now, as you're aware, that has not yet happened. The EU will need to develop some new strategies, some new measures, some new decisions on how to address itself to this new situation."

Just what those new strategies will be is unclear. EU foreign ministers are expected to address the Palestinian aid issue during a Monday meeting in Luxembourg.

Udwin says the temporary halt will not affect humanitarian aid sent to non-profits and to United Nations relief agencies. But there is no doubt the aid suspension by the EU - the largest donor to the Palestinian territories - will be keenly felt. Immediately at stake is some $36.9 million, which Europe had earmarked for release later this year.

The EU's announcement was immediately criticized in the Palestinian territories. Hamas lawmaker Mushir al-Masri said the aid freeze would be considered by the Palestinian people as a collective punishment for having voted for Hamas.

Both the United States and European Union have been threatening to cut off aid for weeks, if Hamas did not change its position regarding Israel and violence. Hamas is a group that the U.S. State Department considers a terrorist organization. On Thursday, a U.S. House of Representatives committee passed a bill giving the Bush administration greater flexibility to offer indirect humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian authorities. The measure still needs to be voted into law.

Meanwhile, both Israel and Canada have cut off Palestinian assistance since Hamas formally came to power earlier this month. But the European Union agreed in March to earmark some $143 million in short-term assistance to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority. Most of the money was channeled through the U.N. for education, health and other important needs.

In recent days Hamas has sent mixed messages on whether it might recognize Israel. Some European politicians said Hamas appeared to be moving in the right direction, but far too slowly.