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Hamas Says It Won't Be 'Blackmailed'

A top Hamas official on Tuesday said the group will not be "blackmailed" by international threats to cut off aid to the Palestinians and said Hamas already is searching for new sources of funding.

Israel, meanwhile, is imposing economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority, withholding about $50 million dollars a month in tax revenues, saying it will not finance Hamas, reports CBS News correspondent Robert Berger.

Osama Hamdan, a member of the group's exiled leadership, spoke a day after international donors that support the Palestinian government said millions of dollars of aid could be in jeopardy if Hamas does not change its violent ways. Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide attacks, is poised to lead the next Palestinian government after winning legislative elections.

"We are looking for alternative sources and we will not allow ourselves to be blackmailed," Hamdan said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from Beirut, Lebanon. "We will not accept any conditions from anybody. At the same time, we are ready for dialogue."

In other developments:

  • The Israeli army and Jewish settlers in the West Bank are on a collision course, reports Berger (audio). Seven thousand Israeli police and soldiers are poised to dismantle the illegal settlement outpost of Amona in the West Bank. Hundreds of settlers have set up barbed wire and cement blocks and vowed to prevent the evacuation.
  • Hard-line Israeli politician Benjamin Netanyahu could gain votes from Hamas' electoral victory, analysts say. A poll published Monday — the first since Hamas won 74 out of 132 seats in the Palestinian legislative council last week — showed Likud making gains.
  • Five children were seriously injured when a land mine left over from the 1967 Arab-Israeli war exploded near the city of Quneitra on the Syrian side of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the Syrian government newspaper Al-Thawra said Tuesday.
  • Israeli troops killed two Islamic Jihad militants on Tuesday during a shootout that erupted after the army tried to arrest the men in a village outside Jenin.

    Monday's meeting of the so-called "Quartet" of Mideast peace makers — the European Union, United States, Russia and United Nations — stopped short of issuing an outright threat to Hamas.

    But they said it is "inevitable" that future aid to a Hamas-led government "would be reviewed" if Hamas fails to renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept existing agreements between the Palestinians and Israel. Hamas leaders on Monday rejected the Western demands.

  • Western donors, led by the U.S. and EU, funnel some $900 million to the Palestinians each year, most of it designated for reconstruction projects in the impoverished Gaza Strip and West Bank. The EU and U.S. list Hamas as a terror group, making it difficult, if not illegal, for them to give money to a government led by Hamas.

    Israel's next payment of taxes and customs it collects from Palestinian workers and merchants is due on Wednesday.

    "If you're going to have a situation where committed terrorists are going to be running the Palestinian government, there's absolutely no logic whatsoever that we would pay people who are sending suicide bombers to kill our citizens," Israeli spokesman Mark Regev said.

    Such cuts would devastate an already battered economy, cost tens of thousands of government jobs and deepen the Palestinian Authority's fiscal crisis.

    Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas implored European donors not to cut their aid. "The European countries must understand that the Palestinian people are in bad need of this aid," Abbas said. "I hope to God that they will change their positions, both Israel and the European countries."

    Hamas leaders, who have tried to portray a more moderate image since the election, sought to assure the donors that aid would go only to ordinary Palestinians and not be used for attacks.

    But Hamas officials said Tuesday the group already is in touch with potential donors in Arab and Muslim nations. The officials declined to be identified because the contacts are in an early stage.

    Analysts say that although most wealthy Gulf nations will not stand by and watch the Palestinians starve, the Arab and Muslim world is unlikely to provide the kind of cash Western nations have given.

    Government officials in the oil-rich countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar, the most likely donors, are staying clear of the subject for now, refusing to discuss the issue despite repeated contacts from the AP.

    The Gulf governments have pledged tens of millions of dollars to the Palestinians in the past, but sent only a tiny fraction of that money.

    Abbas is scheduled to meet with Hamas leaders in the coming weeks to discuss formation of a government. Abbas, who wants to restart peace talks with Israel, was elected separately last year and now must work out a power-sharing arrangement with the Islamic group. A key issue would be who controls the various Palestinian security forces. Control currently is divided between Abbas and the prime minister — a job likely to go to Hamas.

    Abbas was in Cairo on Tuesday for talks with Egyptian officials, who frequently act as mediators. Hamas officials said no meetings with Abbas were expected Tuesday, but they expected to hold future talks in Egypt. Hamas officials hope Egypt will persuade Abbas to bring his Fatah movement, trounced in last week's vote, into a government with the militants.

    "The dialogue is on the agenda and we will meet later on in Cairo," Hamdan said. "We are still talking about a national coalition."

    Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, is expected in Egypt on Wednesday to discuss the Hamas victory.

    The Amona ettlers established the outpost — and dozens others — without authorization in an effort to prevent the transfer of disputed land to Palestinians who want to include the West Bank in a future state. Israel has committed in the internationally-backed "road map" peace plan to dismantle about two dozen of the outposts.

    "This is the first confrontation between acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the settlers," reports Berger. "Olmert seems to be sending a message that Israel plans more unilateral withdrawals from parts of the West Bank."