EU foreign ministers have endorsed a temporary freeze on aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government. Accusations of blackmail and talk of an imminent collapse of finances were dismissed. Ursula Plassnik announced the decision of the 25: “We remain committed to support the Palestinian people, and we will continue to meet basic human needs of the population, but we will not for the time being continue direct assistance to the new government.”
Hundreds of Palestinians from various factions took to the streets of Gaza to protest against the EU decision. Europe has been the main donor to the Palestinian Authority, providing an average 500 million euros per year. Yet Hamas is officially blacklisted as supporting terrorism, and so when the Islamists won January polls, aid was disrupted. The speaker for Hamas in the Palestinian Legislative Council Mushir al-Masri said:
“Europe and the international community are asked to speed up the halting of the dangerous, unprecedented escalation and state of terror” (a reference to Israel) “…instead of stopping funds for the Palestinian people. The international community’s role is to give the Palestinians help as long as they live under occupation. The people are rallying in support of this government.”
The Gaza protesters also passed the local United Nations building, throwing eggs. The EU had said it was cutting funds because the new Palestinian cabinet had not recognised Israel’s right to exist or renounced violence. The EU intends to soften the aid cuts’ impact on ordinary people while debating what kind of contact to have with the Islamists. The United States last week also suspended aid.
EU diplomats said the freeze did not affect humanitarian aid through international organisations and NGOs;
But the the Hamas-led government without money is unable to pay salaries.