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August 20, 2017

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Put conditions on Palestinian aid: Israel

Israel has asked the European Union to make Palestinians sign a document renouncing terrorism before they can receive EU help under a new aid program, Western officials said on Tuesday.

The proposal was one of several raised by Israeli officials in talks on Monday over an international aid mechanism meant to help Palestinians hard hit by a Western aid boycott while sidestepping the Hamas-led government.

The Israeli proposal underscored the difficulties facing the European Union in crafting an aid system that does not undercut Israeli and U.S. efforts to isolate Hamas.

A European Commission source said no decision had been made on any system to vet Palestinians who would benefit under the aid mechanism, agreed at the weekend by the Quartet of Middle East mediators — the EU, the United States, the United Nations and Russia.

European and Palestinian critics said requiring every aid recipient to sign a form renouncing violence could politicize the aid mechanism and further delay the launch of proposed allowance payments to tens of thousands of needy Palestinians.

"It is not a fair demand," said Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "They (the Israelis) should leave politics out of this. This is a humanitarian catastrophe."

In addition to asking Palestinians to sign forms renouncing terrorism, Israel has proposed running the names of Palestinian aid recipients through its own national security database.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev declined to discuss details of the discussions with the EU, but said: "It must be clear that this sort of money is not going to people involved in terrorism."

Donor money under the international aid mechanism would not go through the Palestinian Authority, which faces an international aid boycott over Hamas's refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept past peace agreements.

Sworn to Israel's destruction, the Islamic militant group has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings against Israelis since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000, though it has not carried out such an attack for nearly two years.

"We call upon the European Union to deal officially with the Palestinian elected government," said Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. He called the EU plan a step in the right direction but "incomplete".

Money should start flowing next month to cover Palestinian health and utilities costs, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in Jerusalem on Monday. But a system to pay allowances to the neediest Palestinians will take longer.

Western diplomats said it could take several months to draw up an eligibility list, craft a monitoring system, and open bank accounts for the thousands of Palestinians expected to seek aid.

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