Saudi Arabia criticizes EU threat to cut Hamas-led Palestinian government

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Tuesday the European Union was being "unreasonable" for threatening to cut crucial financial aid to a Hamas-led Palestinian government. "The European Union insisted on having elections in Palestine, and this is the result of what they asked for," Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters in Malaysia.

"Now to come around and say (they) don't accept the will of the people that was expressed through democratic means seems an unreasonable position to take," said al-Faisal, who was accompanying Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on a state visit to Kuala Lumpur.

The prince indicated that Riyadh would maintain its position as the Palestinians' biggest Arab donor, saying that "if anybody changes his relations to the Palestinian Authority prematurely, it would be a disastrous thing."

Hamas, which won last week's Palestinian legislative elections, on Monday promised that international aid would only go toward helping ordinary Palestinians and said that a Hamas government is ready to open up its budget and spending to outside monitors.

The Islamic militant faction's assurance came as foreign ministers from the 25 EU nations urged Hamas to recognize the state of Israel, renounce violence and disarm, and threatened to cut off funding if the demands were ignored.

Europe is the largest international donor to the Palestinian Authority, which relies heavily on foreign aid to meet its an annual operating budget of about US$1.6 billion (US$1.3 billion). About one-third goes to salaries and the rest to rehabilitate war-shattered infrastructure.

Al-Faisal voiced optimism that Hamas, which has opposed Arab-Israeli peace talks and carried out dozens of suicide bombings against Israelis, might assume a more moderate agenda, reports the AP. I.L.

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