U.N. Ends Unrestricted Political Contact With Palestinians

The United Nations said Tuesday it has ended its policy of unrestricted political contacts with the Palestinians and will now assess every request for political talks with the new Hamas-run government.

The new U.N. policy follows bans on contacts with Hamas by Israel, the United States and the European Union, which consider the militant Islamic group a terrorist organization. Hamas' refusal to renounce its violent, anti-Israel ideology after its victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections in January has also led Israel and the West to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars from the new government, which is now bankrupt.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said "working contacts" between the U.N. and the new Palestinian government will ensure that there is no disruption in the delivery of U.N. humanitarian aid and services to the Palestinian people.

"The issue of political contacts, above and beyond the humanitarian assistance, will be dealt with as they arise ... on a case by case basis," he said.

While Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called for the results of the Palestinian election to be respected, Dujarric said he has also joined the United States, the EU and Russia in demanding that Hamas recognize Israel, accept past Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements and renounce violence.

So far, Hamas has refused to accept the demands by the so-called Quartet, which wants to get the Palestinians and Israelis back on the roadmap they drafted which culminates in two states living side by side in peace.

The U.N. spokesman refused to call the new U.N. policy "a downgrading of U.N. political relations" and denied that the U.N. was trying to punish the Palestinians.

Dujarric said the U.N's top Mideast envoy, Alvaro de Soto, "is free to meet with whomever the secretary-general asks him to meet, or gives him permission to meet."

He said the new policy would also cover political contacts with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate whose Fatah Party lost to Hamas in the recent legislative elections.