EU to deal with non-Hamas ministers

Bloc agrees to engage with Fatah and independent members of Palestinian cabinet.

    Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, was
    downbeat on prospects for early progress [AFP]

    "We have a pragmatic position to deal with all interlocutors that are not members of Hamas ... The finance minister, the interior minister and the foreign minister are not members of Hamas," he said.
     
    The 27-nation EU had boycotted the former Hamas-led Palestinian government, formed last year, because it refused to recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept past peace accords.
     
    Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European external relations commissioner, has invited Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian unity government's finance minister, to Brussels on April 11 to discuss ways of channeling aid to the Palestinians.
     
    "It is important that we prepare for the future, also on (the) financial question," Ferrero-Waldner said on Saturday.
     
    But she has cautioned against expecting an overnight resumption of direct assistance, saying a temporary mechanism to distribute aid bypassing the government would have to remain in place for the time being.
     
    New government
     
    The new Palestinian government, formed this month between Fatah, led by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and Hamas, has said it will respect past agreements, but Hamas insisted it would not recognise the Jewish state or renounce armed resistance.
     
    The Arab peace initiative, revised and put forward again in Riyadh last week, offers peace and relations with Israel in exchange for a complete withdrawal from Arab land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war and a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.
     
    EU officials said the ministers had agreed the bloc would step up efforts in the Quartet of international mediators grouping the US, the EU, Russia and the United Nations, to revive peace efforts.
     
    They would also press for co-operation with a newly-formed Arab Quartet, made up of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE.
     
    But Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, was downbeat on prospects for early progress.
     
    "Now we must see how much movement we can get from this for the peace process in the Middle East. Although I think there is a very long, hard stretch ahead of us," she said on Saturday in Berlin, before she left for a three-day trip to Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
     
    Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, said the new Palestinian government would be judged on its deeds.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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