Palestinian president meets with EU officials

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met Tuesday with the leaders of Austria, which holds the EU presidency, for talks expected to include ways to continue funding the Palestinian government without supporting the radical Hamas party.

Abbas was meeting early in the day with Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel on ways to potentially circumvent Hamas, which won Jan. 25 elections but is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe. He was also slated to meet with Austrian President Heinz Fischer and Ursula Plassnik, the country's foreign minister, before heading to Strasbourg to meet with EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

But the talks were overshadowed by an upsurge in Israeli-Palestinian violence, with Abbas accusing Britain and the United States of being responsible for an Israeli raid on a West Bank prison and demanding that Israeli forces withdraw.

With Hamas expected to form a government later this month, EU lawmakers are dealing with the dilemma of how to keep providing funding to ease the plight of the Palestinian people while ensuring that none of their aid ends up with the group that refuses to recognize Israel and renounce anti-Israeli violence.

On Feb. 27, the EU granted Ђ 120 million (US$143 million) in urgent aid to the Palestinians for utility bills, U.N. projects and Palestinian Authority salaries. It was unclear what the EU would do once the Hamas forms a government, most probably later this month. The United States has already ruled out money for a Hamas-led government.

On Saturday, EU foreign ministers reviewed financial aid to Palestinians but announced no immediate halt to funds as long as a new government has not been formed.

The EU, along with the US, wants a Hamas-led government to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept all previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians meant to normalize relations, reports the AP.