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France, Italy say Palestinians need to do more for aid

The Palestinian government must do more if it wants to end an international ban on direct aid, France and Italy said on Monday, rebuffing calls by Palestinian ministers for help in lifting the siege. Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema's (...)

(...) meeting with Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti in Rome and talks between Palestinian Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr and his French counterpart Philippe Douste-Blazy were the first with EU states since a Palestinian unity government was sworn in two weeks ago.

Following his meeting with 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.

He said among the pre-conditions for a normalization of relations was the release of an Israeli soldier seized 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.

Abu Amr earlier told reporters the Palestinian government had met its international commitments and now was in need of 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 so-called Middle East Quartet said the ban would remain until the new unity government renounced violence, recognized Israel and accepted past peace accords.

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

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 crystallizing 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.

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. The United States has also started talking to non-Hamas ministers, a position Abu Amar criticized.

"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.

In Rome, D'Alema urged the new Palestinian government to "explicitly recognize" Israel in a meeting with Barghouti.

The new Palestinian government "is an opportunity that should be seized to embark rapidly on the realization of mutual confidence measures ... allowing the establishment of a climate appropriate for returning to the path of peace," D'Alema said, calling for Shalit's immediate release.

Barghouti told AFP from Ramallah afterward: "I called on Italy and the entire European Union to deal immediately with this government and not to make a distinction among its ministers."


Marseille,04 11 2007
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