Militants will not yield to international economic pressure, Hamas official says

A senior Hamas official Monday brushed aside warnings that Western aid to the Palestinians could dry up because of the militants' hard-line stand on Israel, saying the Islamic group would not bow to international pressure. "Cutting off funds now will be a punishment of the Palestinian people, not of Hamas," said Mohammed Nazzal, member of Hamas' decision-making political bureau, which is based in Damascus, Syria.

"If the European Union countries and the American administration see this as a means that could lead to a change in Hamas' strategic position then they are dreaming and are mistaken. Hamas will never accept that," he said in an interview with Al-Arabiya TV.

But another Hamas leader in the Palestinian territories asked the international community not to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority. Ismail Hanniyeh promised in Gaza that the money would only go toward helping the Palestinians and said a Hamas government is ready to have its spending monitored.

Hamas' upset victory over the mainstream Fatah faction, which ran the Palestinian Authority, came as a shock to many countries involved in the Middle East peace process. Hamas is responsible for dozens of suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis.

Financial aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian government has been viewed as one means for Western governments to modify Hamas policy. The United States has led efforts for peace in the 57-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday ruled out any U.S. financial assistance to a Hamas government. She said she wants other nations to cut off aid to a Hamas-led Palestinian government.

Hamas is considered a terrorist group by the United States and Israel. It is also on an EU blacklist of terrorist groups. The group refuses to disarm or recognize Israel, though it has hinted that it could reach a long-term truce or other accommodation with the Jewish state.

Since a cease-fire declaration last February, Hamas has not claimed involvement in any suicide attacks.

On Saturday, Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal sought to calm international concerns, declaring the group would abide by existing agreements that are "in the interest of our people." But Mashaal refused to disarm or denounce violence against Israelis and called for a partnership with other Palestinian factions.

EU diplomats said foreign ministers from the 25 member states were expected at a meeting in Brussels Monday to call on Hamas to drop its militant wing and to recognize the state of Israel. The ministers are also expected to issue a declaration "stressing that violence and terror are not compatible with democratic processes," reports the AP. I.L.

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