Russia Defies International Boycott, Pledges Aid to Hamas

Russia said it has pledged urgent financial assistance to the Hamas-led Palestinian government despite an international boycott.

The Russian Foreign Ministry did not say much money it offered.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "expressed great appreciation" for the pledge, which was conveyed by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the ministry said in a statement late Friday.

The European Union this week froze hundreds of millions of dollars in annual direct aid to the Palestinian government. The United States and Canada have also halted government aid, and the U.S. this week barred Americans from most dealings with the Palestinian government.

The funding cutoff already is having an effect. Dozens of masked Palestinian police officers blocked a main road in the Gaza Strip on Saturday and briefly seized a government building to protest a delay in paying their salaries.

Russia broke the international isolation of Hamas last month by hosting a high-level delegation in a move seen as a bid by Russian President Vladimir Putin to raise Russia's role in the Middle East peace process.

The decision provoked anger in Israel and surprise among the other members of the so-called Quartet of Middle East peacemakers. It made no apparent headway in persuading Hamas to soften its stance.

Russia's foreign minister on Tuesday criticized the West's "boycott" of the Palestinian government, saying engagement was the only way to push the new Hamas leadership to meet international demands to recognize Israel, give up violence and acknowledge existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

In Cairo, Egypt, on Saturday, Arab officials urged the Palestinian foreign minister to consider an Arab plan to end the conflict with Israel that calls for exchanging land for peace.

Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar said he would discuss the initiative with the others in the government but pointed out that Israel had not yet accepted the deal.

"The problem is: does the other party accept it?" Zahar told reporters after a meeting with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and other Arab envoys.

Zahar arrived here Friday on the first leg of a regional tour that will take him later to Saudi Arabia and several Gulf nations to ask for support.

Arab countries have pledged to help close Hamas' funding gap, but so far have not kept their promises.