A European Parliament delegation met Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza on Tuesday despite an EU diplomatic boycott of his Hamas movement, sparking a protest from Israel.
Palestinian PM Haniyeh, center, faces international criticism of his Hamas movement
The 25-member delegation was led by Cypriot MEP Kyriacos Triantaphyllides, the president of the European Parliament committee for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Haniyeh used the meeting to call on "the international community to work with the national unity government in an official and direct manner as it represents the will of the Palestinian people," according to a statement from his office.
He also made another appealed for a direct aid embargo on his cabinet to be lifted.
Triantaphyllides told the AFP news agency the delegation had come to Gaza "to see exactly what the situation is because we are for helping and finding a solution to the problem."
"We consider this government as an opportunity to facilitate the peace process," he said.
Israel denounces EU-Hamas meeting
Gaza remains a volatile place
The EU, along with Israel and the United States, considers Hamas a terrorist organization, and froze direct aid and diplomatic contacts with the Palestinian government after the Islamist movement first formed a cabinet last year.
Many Palestinians thought aid payments would be reinstated when Hamas on March 17 formed a unity cabinet with President Mahmud Abbas' secular Fatah faction and Western-backed independents, but the West has so far refused to lift the freeze.
The EU and US are demanding that the government explicitly recognize Israel, renounce violence and agree to abide by past peace deals for the aid to resume.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev criticized Tuesday's meeting.
"The EU has classified Hamas as a terrorist organization and the EU leadership has boycotted Hamas," he told AFP. "Thankfully this delegation does not speak for the EU.
"Giving legitimacy and recognition to an organization that refuses to support peace and refuses to renounce terrorism cannot but strengthen that organization's extremist agenda," Regev said.
Olmert under mounting pressure to resign
Separately, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's political future appeared increasingly uncertain on Wednesday as pressure mounted on him to resign for his handling of the Lebanon war last year.
Olmert is under mounting pressure to resign
An official report into the war has sharply criticized what it called Olmert's "serious failures."
The Winograd Commission said the cabinet rubber-stamped the decision to go to war but Olmert bore "supreme responsibility" for launching the air, sea and land assaults without a proper plan after Hezbollah seized two Israeli soldiers on July 12.
During the 34-day campaign in which Hezbollah rained 4,000 rockets on Israel and Israeli warplanes pounded southern Beirut, more than 1,000 people were killed in Lebanon, including about 900 civilians, while 117 Israeli troops died along with 41 civilians caught in the rocket strikes in northern Israel.
Israel Radio and Army Radio reported on Wednesday that Defense Minister Amir Peretz is considering stepping down as a result of the report.