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U.S. Urges Nations To Freeze Hamas Aid

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. will not provide any financial assistance to Hamas, and wants other nations to cut off aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government. Humanitarian aid will be evaluated on a "case-by-case basis."

The United States wants other nations to cut off aid to a Hamas-led Palestinian government, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said ahead of an international strategy session on Mideast peace prospects.

Rice ruled out any U.S. financial assistance to a Hamas government.

Humanitarian help to the Palestinians, many of whom are poor and unemployed, is likely on a "case-by-case basis," Rice said Sunday. She indicated that the administration would follow through on aid promised to the current, U.S.-backed Palestinian government led by President Mahmoud Abbas.

President Bush said Monday he will not support a Palestinian government made up of Hamas.

"The Hamas party has made it clear that they do not support the right of Israel," Mr. Bush said after meeting with his Cabinet. "And I have made it clear that so long as that's their policy, that we will not support a Palestinian government made up of Hamas."

Rice's comments underscored these remarks. "The United States is not prepared to fund an organization that advocates the destruction of Israel, that advocates violence and that refuses its obligations," under an international framework for eventual Mideast peace, Rice also said.

Rice was meeting other members of the so-called Quartet of would-be Mideast peacemakers Monday. The group, which includes the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, is already on record as saying "there is a fundamental contradiction between armed group and militia activities and the building of a democratic state."

In Gaza meanwhile, a Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, called on the international community to continue funding the Palestinian Authority. Haniyeh urged the West to reconsider cutting off aid, saying it must recognize the result of the Palestinian election. He also said the money would be spent to help the Palestinian people in their daily lives and that Hamas was willing to discuss means of keeping the spending transparent.

"We in Hamas are ready to meet and have an open dialogue with the Quartet," he told a news conference in Gaza City. "We assure you that all the money will be spent under your supervision."

A senior Hamas official in Lebanon, however, brushed aside warnings that Western aid to the Palestinians could dry up. "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 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.

Rice also will meet separately with other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to discuss Iran and an upcoming vote on whether to refer the Tehran government to the council over its nuclear program.

Hamas, or the Islamic Resistance Movement, won a decisive majority in last week's Palestinian legislative elections. The group, which has political and militant wings, will now take a large role in governing the Palestinians. The makeup of the new government is not clear.

The Islamic militants, who carried out dozens of suicide bombings and seek Israel's destruction, have said they oppose peace talks and will not disarm. Israel refuses to deal with Hamas.

Hamas' unexpected electoral victory raised questions about the future of the peace process between the Palestinians and Israel, and how the United States can influence such efforts or help impoverished Palestinians.

"We're going to review all of our assistance programs, but the bedrock principle here is we can't have funding for an organization that holds those views just because it is in government," Rice said.

Mamoud Zahar, a founder and high-level leader of Hamas, told 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace that there is no one in the Israeli government he feels he can trust enough to negotiate with, and it is President Bush who .

The U.S., Europe and Israel list Hamas as a terrorist organization; various Arab governments have contact with the group.

"It is important that Hamas now will have to confront the implications of its covenant if it wishes to govern," Rice said. "That becomes a primary consideration in anything that we do."

EU foreign ministers on Monday called on Hamas to clarify its political intentions in an eventual Palestinian government, urging it to embrace peace efforts with Israel. But it is not clear that all European nations or the United Nations would cut off aid, let alone Arab governments that do not recognize Israel.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Hamas faced a "big choice" as an organization, as "elections and democracy entail responsibility."

"You cannot have violence and democracy at the same time," he said.

"I just think that anyone who is devoted to trying to bring Middle East peace between two states has an obligation now to make sure that anybody that is going to be supported is going to have that same" goal, Rice said.

U.S. aid is a small part of the $1.6 billion annual budget of the Palestinian Authority.

About $1 billion comes from overseas donors, more than half of that from European nations. The rest is a mix of funds from international donor agencies, Arab and Asian governments, and the U.S., which gave $70 million in direct aid to the Palestinian Authority last year.

Separately, the U.S. spent $225 million for humanitarian projects through the U.S. Agency for International Development last year, and gave $88 million for refugee assistance.

Meanwhile, violence continues to escalate in Gaza City Monday, where about 30 Palestinian policemen stormed the parliament building, firing in the air, witnesses said.

The officers closed the gates behind them, and some climbed onto the roof. It was not immediately clear why they took over the building.

Masked gunmen on Monday also briefly took over a European Union office to protest a Danish newspaper's publication of cartoons deemed insulting to Islam's Prophet Muhammad, the latest in a wave of violent denunciations of the caricatures across the Islamic world.

In Monday's violence, the gunmen burst into the EU office, then withdrew several minutes later. A group of about 15 masked men, armed with hand grenades, automatic weapons and anti-tank launchers, remained outside, keeping the offices closed. No shots were fired, and there were no reports of injuries. The gunmen left the building after about half an hour.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent group linked to Fatah, claimed responsibility. Al Aqsa has been involved in much of the recent chaos plaguing Gaza in recent months.