RAMALLAH, West Bank – A top Hamas official said Tuesday the Islamic militant group will not be "blackmailed" by international threats to cut off aid to the Palestinians and is searching for new sources of funding.
Osama Hamdan, a member of the group's exiled leadership, spoke a day after international donors that support the Palestinian government said millions of dollars of aid could be in jeopardy if Hamas does not change its violent ways.
Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide attacks, is poised to lead the next Palestinian government after winning legislative elections.
"We are looking for alternative sources and we will not allow ourselves to be blackmailed," Hamdan said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from Beirut, Lebanon. "We will not accept any conditions from anybody. At the same time, we are ready for dialogue."
Monday's meeting of the so-called "Quartet" of Mideast peace makers — the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia — stopped short of issuing an outright threat to Hamas.
But they said it is "inevitable" that future aid to a Hamas-led government "would be reviewed" if Hamas fails to renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept existing agreements between the Palestinians and Israel. Hamas leaders have rejected the Western demands.
Western donors, led by the United States and EU, funnel some $900 million to the Palestinians each year, most of it designated for reconstruction projects in the impoverished Gaza Strip and West Bank. The United States and European Union list Hamas as a terrorist group, making it difficult, if not illegal, for them to give money to a government led by Hamas.
In an interview with The Associated Press, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said, "The moment the new government is in place, if Hamas has not adapted its platform as required, it will be very difficult for the EU to continue funding the Palestinian Authority."
Russian President Vladimir Putin called on Hamas to engage in peaceful dialogue and warned the West against refusing support for the Palestinians. He also said Russia's position on the Middle East differed from that of the United States and Europe.
"Russia has never declared Hamas a terrorist organization, but it doesn't mean we support and accept everything Hamas has done and all the statements it has made," he said.
Israel also said it would stop the monthly transfer of $55 million in taxes and customs it collects from Palestinian workers and merchants to the Palestinian Authority if a Hamas government is installed. The next payment is due Wednesday, and Israel has not said whether it will transfer the money.
Such cuts would devastate an already battered economy, cost tens of thousands of government jobs and deepen the Palestinian Authority's fiscal crisis.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas implored European donors not to cut their aid.
"The European countries must understand that the Palestinian people are in bad need of this aid," Abbas said. "I hope to God that they will change their positions, both Israel and the European countries."
Hamas leaders, who have tried to portray a more moderate image since the election, sought to assure the donors that aid would go only to ordinary Palestinians and not be used for attacks.
But Hamas officials said Tuesday the group already is in touch with potential donors in Arab and Muslim nations. The officials declined to be identified because the contacts are in an early stage.
Analysts say that although most wealthy Gulf nations will not stand by and watch the Palestinians starve, the Arab and Muslim world is unlikely to provide the kind of cash Western nations have given.
Government officials in the oil-rich countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar, the most likely donors, are staying clear of the subject for now, refusing to discuss the issue despite repeated contacts from the AP.
The Gulf governments have pledged tens of millions of dollars to the Palestinians in the past but sent only a tiny fraction of that money.
Abbas is scheduled to meet with Hamas leaders in the coming weeks to discuss formation of a government. Abbas, who wants to restart peace talks with Israel, was elected separately last year and now must work out a power-sharing arrangement with the Islamic group.
A key issue would be who controls the various Palestinian security forces. Control currently is divided between Abbas and the prime minister — a job likely to go to Hamas.
Abbas was in Cairo, Egypt, on Tuesday for talks with Egyptian officials, who frequently act as mediators. Hamas officials said no meetings with Abbas were expected Tuesday, but they expected to hold future talks in Egypt.
Hamas officials hope Egypt will persuade Abbas to bring his Fatah movement, trounced in last week's vote, into a government with the militants.
"The dialogue is on the agenda and we will meet later on in Cairo," Hamdan said. "We are still talking about a national coalition."
Earlier, Abbas was in Jordan, where King Abdullah II urged Hamas to engage in peacemaking with Israel.
Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, is expected in Egypt on Wednesday to discuss the Hamas victory.