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Bush Administration Hints At Change Or End To Palestinian Aid Boycott

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush administration hinted Friday and it may resume some payments to the Palestinians now that a U.S.-backed moderate is in charge of a consolidated government in the West Bank.

``We're going to take a look, given the changed circumstances with the new Palestinian government, at what we might do,'' State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Others are making the same recalculations. European Union authorities on Friday voiced strong backing for moderate, secular Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in his conflict with Hamas, a possible prelude to resuming suspended aid.

The United States and other members of the international group of would-be Mideast peacemakers known as the Quartet conferred by phone Friday and may call for some change in international aid policies.

At the same time, Washington acknowledged the difficulties posed by the upending of the previous Palestinian political order this week. While Abbas is in nominal charge of the entire government, he holds effective control over only one of the two Palestinian territories and only about half his people. It is not clear how Palestinian government will operate day to day.

``In our view, the Palestinian government that is being formed by Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad is the Palestinian government for all Palestinians, including those in Gaza,'' McCormack said. ``In practical terms, that's a very difficult proposition.''

Fayyad is a Western-backed political independent and respected economist. The United States maintained contact with him over Israeli objections when he joined a coalition government with Hamas this spring.

Abbas sacked that government Thursday and declared a state of emergency to try to avert a full-on civil war. Hours later. Hamas was in complete control of Gaza, a small, seaside territory about 25 miles from the separate West Bank. Israel lies in between, and with bordering Egypt controls access to Gaza.

Hamas denounced Abbas' move to dissolve the coalition government as a coup. The radicals were overwhelmingly elected in a 2006 parliament vote largely on the strength of the services they were able to deliver in its Gaza power base.

Most of the world has boycotted direct aid to the Palestinian government since Hamas took control last year. The U.S., European Union and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist group and refuse all dealings with it, including aid payments to the portions of government under Hamas control.

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel or renounce violence. Hamas regularly fires rockets from Gaza into southern Israel. Abbas and other Palestinian moderates have pledged to seek peace with Israel and condemn the rocket fire.

``The discussion among the Quartet has already begun about providing,'' assistance, McCormack said.

The Palestinian Authority is the governing structure for Palestinians in the territories. European governments were large donors to the authority before Hamas took over last year, and a resumption would mark a major turnabout for Abbas.

The United States had provided only small amounts of direct aid, largely because Congress was concerned that Abbas had not excised corruption endemic to the Palestinian government under the previous leadership of Yasser Arafat.

The United States and other donors increased humanitarian and other indirect aid to make up for the loss of direct government aid, saying the intent was to freeze out Hamas but not to harm ordinary Palestinians.

McCormack said the United States wants to be ``very positive and forward-looking'' in coming up with ways to support the emergency government. He made clear, however, that the United States will not back off its refusal to deal with Hamas or to see any U.S. assistance find its way into Hamas coffers.
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