LONDON - The international community's policy of boycotting the Hamas-led Palestinian government is "questionable" and could lead to increased violence, according to a report by a British parliamentary committee released on Wednesday.
Washington and Brussels, which have cut off direct aid to the Palestinian Authority since Hamas secured an election victory last year, both classify it as a terrorist organisation, and have refused to deal with it until the group ‘renounces violence’ and recognises Israel.
According to the Commons International Development Committee, however, that policy could prove to be counter-productive, and has thus far simply pushed Hamas closer to Iran as it has searched for countries that support it.
"We doubt whether this is a development that the international community would have intended," the report by a committee of members of Parliament said.
The committee said that while it believed "that the international community is right to place pressure on Hamas to change those policies which militate against a peace process ... this would best be achieved through dialogue and engagement rather than isolation.
"The danger of the current approach is that it might push Hamas into a corner which encourages violence."
Bush unveils security aid for Palestinian ally
US President George W. Bush has ordered the transfer of about 86 million dollars in aid to strengthen security forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, the White House said Tuesday.
Confirmation of the US aid came a day after a militant carried out the first suicide bombing inside Israel in nine months and as Abbas' Fatah party is locked in a violent power struggle with Hamas.
The aid is part of a broader US push to revive peace negotiations between Abbas and Israel and comes ahead of a meeting here Friday of the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators -- the US, Russia, European Union and United Nations.
US officials said the aid, described as non-lethal assistance including training, vehicles and uniforms, would help Abbas counter militant attacks on Israel like Monday's suicide bombing in the Red Sea resort of Eilat which killed three Israelis plus the bomber.
"The idea is to build the legitimate security forces, to help provide law and order in Gaza and the West Bank, fight terror, and to facilitate movement and access especially in Gaza," said national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
The money will go "to support efforts to reform Palestinian civil security forces under the direct command of the Office of the President," said the spokesman.
"Our funds will be utilized exclusively for non-lethal supplies and training," he said. "This has obvious security and economic benefits for the Palestinians."
The Quartet issued a statement laying down conditions for a resumption of international aid, which included the Hamas-led government recognizing Israel and ‘renouncing violence’ -- steps the democratically elected government has refused to take.
The Quartet aid freeze, coupled with an Israeli refusal to hand over tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians, plunged the territories into a deep economic crisis.
In a bid to end the aid boycott and revive talks with Israel, Abbas has tried for months to negotiate a power sharing deal between his secular Fatah and Hamas, but with no success.
The political showdown turned violent after Abbas announced in December that he would call new legislative elections in hopes of wresting control from Hamas.
In the latest flare-up in fighting between Hamas and Fatah loyalists, 35 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip since Thursday.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack acknowledged that strengthening Abbas' security forces weakened by in-fighting and years of Israeli and international isolation under former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would be difficult.
"It's a tall order because these were security forces that were fragmented, set against one another, and in many cases thoroughly corrupt under the rule of Yasser Arafat," McCormack said.
"But we're dedicated to it," he said.
Hamas slams US aid to Abbas as truce holds
Hamas slammed the multi-million dollar US aid package to bolster security forces loyal to its rival Fatah.
"There is no doubt that this is part of American policy aimed at provoking an escalation and a civil war in the service of a Zionist plan," said Ismail Radwan, a spokesman for Islamist movement Hamas, which heads the government.
"Each time the American administration sees that we have arrived, or are on the verge of arriving, at an agreement, it sends (US Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice to poison the atmosphere or announces financial aid (to president Mahmud Abbas) to maintain tensions among Palestinians," he said.
The truce was largely holding for a second day Wednesday, as the groups swapped hostages. Medics, however, said unknown gunmen shot and wounded a presidential guard officer, one day after a Hamas militant was killed.
"Last night, we started to implement the agreement between Fatah and Hamas and the hostages on both sides have been exchanged," said Radwan.
"Dozens of hostages have been released on both sides," confirmed the Fatah spokesman in the Gaza Strip, Tawfiq Abu Khussa.
But while the Fatah spokesman said the general atmosphere had improved, he complained that an "executive force" controlled by Hamas was causing "tensions and not helping the restoration of confidence" between the groups.