Speaking to journalists during the nation's annual parliament meeting, the National People's Congress, Li Zhaoxing, the foreign minister, said China has long supported the Palestinian cause and "if in the future we receive a request for assistance from the Palestinian side, we will give it positive consideration".

Li avoided any reference to the US-backed "road map" peace plan on Tuesday.

Instead he called on all sides to respect past United Nations resolutions and the land for peace agreement reached at the Oslo Accords of 1993.

Claire Spencer of Chatham House, an international affairs think-tank based in London, told Aljazeera.net: "While we need to wait for Hamas' response, China is saying there are alternative ways to dealing with the region besides America's 'black and white, you are either with us or against' approach."

Hamas said it would look into Beijing's offer.

Winning the Palestinian parliamentary election in January, the resistance movement faces Western economic sanctions and political pressure to renounce violence and recognise Israel's right to exist.

Since the election, Israel has frozen tax revenue transfers, prompting concerns that basic services will soon collapse.

Interest in Middle East

China's offer to consider aid in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict is part of a growing interest in the region, an analyst says.

"This announcement marks a significant increase of what China had done before ... [and reflects] how lost the West has become in the Middle East"

Alastair Crooke of Conflicts Forum, which promotes dialogue between the Western and Muslim worlds

China is a major exporter of Iranian oil and a veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council.

At Tuesday's news conference, Li reiterated calls for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian-Western nuclear dispute and said that as a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, Iran had the right to develop a peaceful nuclear programme.

China's engagement in the Middle East comes as neighbour Japan tries to boost its international standing to gain a permanent seat in the Security Council.

Alastair Crooke of the Conflicts Forum, a group promoting dialogue between the Western and Muslim worlds, said: "In this respect we see two things that are quite important. Both countries are taking a close interest in this (Israeli-Palestinian) conflict, but while Japan was becoming a major donor, China until now was not.

"This announcement marks a significant increase of what China had done before" and reflects "how lost the West has become in the Middle East", Crooke said.