Rice talks with U.S.' Quartet partners about Palestinians' financial situation

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked Monday with partners in the so-called Quartet of Mideast peace negotiators about the financial situation of the Palestinian territories and their new leaders, a State Department spokesman said.

"Secretary Rice spoke to the Quartet principals this morning to discuss the situation in the Palestinian territories after the convening of the newly elected legislative council," said spokesman Noel Clay.

Hamas has begun forming the first Palestinian government run by the militant Islamic group, considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and other Western countries.

The group calls for the destruction of Israel and says it will not negotiate with Israelis. It has carried out scores of deadly suicide bombings against the neighboring state.

The conversation between Rice and representatives of Russia, the European Union and the United Nations "covered issues of support to the Palestinian people," Clay said, adding that the negotiators "took note of the Israeli Cabinet's statement of yesterday and particularly its intention to discuss with donors the continuation of humanitarian support."

Rice talked with the Quartet partners before leaving on a trip to the region that starts in Egypt.

The Israeli Cabinet decided Sunday to stop the transfer of the roughly $55 million (Ђ46 million) a month it collects in taxes and tariffs on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. But the Cabinet declined to adopt tougher restrictions proposed by some Israeli security officials, including sealing off the Gaza Strip from Israel, barring thousands of Palestinian laborers from entering Israel and eliminating all trade with the impoverished area.

The Israeli Cabinet also decided to ask the international community to stop giving money to the Palestinians, though it said humanitarian aid should continue.

Many Western countries have threatened to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for the Palestinian Authority if Hamas does not moderate.

"The United States will continue consultation regarding the immediate financial situation of the interim government," Clay said. "The U.S. intends to stay in very close touch with the Quartet and other international donors regarding their reviews of assistance as a process for forming a new Palestinian government moves ahead."

Hamas assumed control of the Palestinian parliament Saturday after winning 74 of 132 parliament seats in elections Jan. 25, reports AP.


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