BRUSSELS, Belgium – The European Union has cut off direct aid payments to the Hamas-led Palestinian government because of its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel, the EU's executive office said Friday.
Hamas said the decision amounts to collective punishment of Palestinian people. The 25-nation EU is the largest international donor to Palestinian Authority.
"For the time being there are no payments to or through the Palestinian authority," said European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin.
EU foreign ministers are expected to decide Monday on how to deal in the longterm with aid, considered vital to the Palestinian economy.
Udwin said some $36.9 million of new aid from the EU Commission was at stake in the immediate future. She added that the temporary aid cut-off would not affect humanitarian aid sent to non-governmental organizations or to U.N. relief agencies.
"The EU will need to develop some new strategy, some new measures, some new decisions," Udwin told reporters. "While this decision-making process is under way ... we are adopting a policy of maximum prudence."
She said the Commission's decision to halt the aid did not prejudge the ministers' decision. But she noted that Hamas had failed to meet the EU's conditions for continued aid — recognition of Israel, nonviolence and acceptance of existing agreements.
The Commission front-loaded $143 million in urgent aid for to the former Fatah-led Palestinian government in February. It included $21.6 million in direct aid to the caretaker Palestinian government. The rest went to help pay energy and other essential utility bills and fund health and education projects through the U.N. Relief and Works Agency.
EU officials said it received a promise from the former Palestinian government and confirmation from the World Bank that the direct aid was spent before the Hamas-led government took office.