State-run Sana news agency on Tuesday quoted Farouq al-Shara, the foreign minister, as saying Syria would submit the proposal at an Arab summit in March.

 

"The move comes within the framework of the continuous Arab support to the Palestinian people, and the respect of its will and choices," Sana said.

 

The Quartet of major powers trying to broker Middle East peace - Russia, the European Union, the US and the UN - said earlier this week that Hamas must reject violence and recognise Israel or risk losing the vital aid.

 

But Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, said on Tuesday the world should not cut off funding to the Palestinians after Hamas's victory.

 

Syria is a key Hamas supporter and has been under a US-led international pressure to expel the group's leadership from Damascus, including politburo chief Khaled Meshaal.

 

Putin said the world should not
cut off Palestinian funding

Israel said it expected to suspend monthly tax payments to the Palestinian Authority during a policy review after Hamas's win, a decision that Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri described

as an Israeli attempt "to steal Palestinian money".

 

Saudi criticism

 

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, meanwhile, said the EU was being "unreasonable" for threatening to cut crucial financial aid to a Hamas-led Palestinian government.

"The European Union insisted on having elections in Palestine, and this is the result of what they asked for," Prince Saud al-Faisal said in Malaysia.

"Now to come around and say (they) do not accept the will of the people that was expressed through democratic means seems an unreasonable position to take," said al-Faisal, who was accompanying Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on a state visit to Kuala Lumpur.

The prince indicated that Riyadh would maintain its position as the Palestinians' biggest Arab donor, saying that "if anybody changes his relations to the Palestinian Authority prematurely, it would be a disastrous thing".

Hamas, which won last week's Palestinian legislative elections, on Monday promised that international aid would only go toward helping ordinary Palestinians and said that a Hamas government is ready to open up its budget and spending to outside monitors.

Hamas pledge

The Islamic resistance faction's assurance came as foreign ministers from the 25 EU nations urged Hamas to recognise the state of Israel, renounce violence and disarm, and threatened to cut off funding if the demands were ignored.

Europe is the largest international donor to the Palestinian Authority, which relies heavily on foreign aid to meet its annual operating budget of about $1.6 billion. About one-third goes to salaries and the rest to rehabilitate the war-shattered infrastructure.


Al-Faisal voiced optimism that Hamas - which has opposed Arab-Israeli peace talks and carried out dozens of suicide bombings against Israelis - might assume a more moderate agenda.

"I cannot believe that they will not act responsibly as a government," al-Faisal said. "We have to wait and see, and we suggest that everybody wait and see. We need cool heads now, rather than reactions that close the door to (a) peaceful settlement."