In a draft declaration under preparation on Friday, the EU foreign ministers "welcomed" Mahmoud Abbas's announcement that a new government would be formed.

"We have a new Palestinian government, we have a new situation and we should use it to get back to the peace process," said Erkki Tuomioja, the Finnish foreign minister, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

After Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, briefed the 25 ministers on the expected platform of the new government, Massimo D'Alema, the Italian foreign minister, said: "We agreed that we have to support the new Palestinian government. It's a very important turning point for the situation.
   
"Javier Solana told us in the platform there will be recognition by the new government of the treaty signed by the Palestinian Authority in the past - it means recognise Israel as a partner."

Aljazeera’s correspondent in Brussels, Labib Fahmi, reported that the EU foreign ministers welcomed forming a national unity government by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

  

The EU seeks to continue the international mechanism to support the Palestinians and called on the international community to participate in the mechanism.

 

The EU has stressed that the program of the new government will pave the way to whether the EU will deal with it or not.

EU foreign ministers, in conclusions from a meeting in Brussels, "agreed that its operation should be extended for a further three  months. It encouraged donors and others in the region to make full use of the mechanism.

Aid suspension

International aid has been halted since Hamas won a surprise election and formed the government after January parliamentary elections.

Officials from the Quartet group of Middle East mediators - the US, UN, EU and Russia - will meet next week in New York to assess chances of reviving the road map and easing the Palestinian financial crisis that resulted from the aid cutbacks.

"We don't think that anything qualitatively has changed with respect to the Palestinian Authority and that we would expect that the Quartet principles apply and that everybody would live up to those principles"

Sean McCormack,
US State Department spokesman

The Palestinians hope that bringing moderates from the Fatah party of Mahmoud Abbas, the president, into a unity government with Hamas could prompt the EU and other world powers to restore direct aid that was frozen.

The joint government, which is expected to take several weeks to form, is to be based on a document that calls for a Palestinian state alongside Israel - effectively recognising the Jewish state.

But while Hamas has said it will support Abbas' efforts to seek peace, it is refusing to give up its calls for Israel's destruction.

US caution

The US has cautioned against any hasty moves to resume aid.

"We don't think that anything qualitatively has changed with respect to the Palestinian Authority and that we would expect that the Quartet principles apply and that everybody would live up to those principles," Sean McCormack, State Department spokesman, said in Washington on Thursday.

Oxfam International urged the EU on Thursday "to immediately resume normal international aid to the Palestinian Authority in order to avert a looming humanitarian crisis".

The EU is likely to extend a World Bank-led emergency aid programme for three months. Since July, the EU has been making emergency aid payments through the programme, which bypasses the Hamas-led government.