France Snubs Palestinian Call for End to Aid Ban, By Crispian Balmer

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PARIS, April 2 (Reuters) – The new Palestinian government must do more if it wants to end a year-old international ban on direct aid, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said on Monday.

After meeting Palestinian Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr, Douste-Blazy said France wanted to see better relations with the national unity administration, but added that it was too soon for Europe to open the financial taps.

The French minister said amongst the pre-conditions for a normalisation of relations was the release of an Israeli soldier snatched by Palestinian gunmen in the Gaza Strip in June.

“The international community should be progressively engaged in a return of aid… but on condition the unity government meets previous engagements and makes additional gestures, notably the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit,” he said.

Shalit has French citizenship and was seized during a raid on army positions along the Gaza-Israeli border.

In an interview with iTele, Abu Amr said he hoped Shalit would soon be freed, but added that the Israelis needed to agree to a prisoner swap. “This is very important,” he said.

Abu Amr earlier told reporters the Palestinian government, which includes members of the Islamist Hamas movement, had met its international commitments and now needed encouragement.

“There is no further justification for the embargo imposed on the Palestinian authorities,” he said at a joint news conference on his first official visit to the West.

The Middle East Quartet, comprising the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, suspended direct aid last year when Hamas won elections and took power alone.

The quartet said the ban would remain until the government renounced violence, recognised Israel and accepted past peace accords.

Abu Amr said that while Hamas still did not recognise Israel, the government as a whole did.

The European Union has welcomed the decision by Palestinian factions to form a coalition and EU foreign ministers have agreed to engage with non-Hamas members of the new government.

But at a meeting in Germany at the weekend they warned against expecting an overnight resumption of direct assistance.

The United States has also started talking to non-Hamas ministers, while ruling out an end to the embargo, but Abu Amr said this position did not make sense.

“It’s not possible for the international community and Europe to welcome the creation of a national unity government and then decide which ministers it intends to work with,” said Abu Amr, who is independent of Hamas.

In an interview published in Le Monde newspaper on Monday, Abu Amr said Hamas had shifted its position considerably in recent months and now accepted the idea of crystallising a Palestinian state within the old 1967 borders.

“What we need today is encouragement, reciprocity, a constructive approach. Europe should be more logical than the United States and Israel,” he was quoted as saying.

France Snubs Palestinian Call for End to Aid Ban, By Crispian Balmer

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