EU foreign ministers are expected to stop payments to the Hamas-led Palestinian government but want to be sure aid to ordinary citizens continues.
The EU wants to cut funding for Hamas, not humanitarian aid
While making sure the Palestinian government does not receive European aid, European Union External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner stressed the importance of helping the Palestinian people with humanitarian aid.
"Of course we want to be standing by the Palestinian people and that means we will want to ... help them on the basic human needs, for instance water, electricity, food aid, education," she said.
Germany endorsed the financing freeze, which should last at least one month, according to Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Payment freeze expected
Steinmeier and the foreign ministers will re-evaluate the halt at their next meeting in May
"It is right we attach consequences to the fact the Palestinian government is not responding to our expectations," he said Monday.
Europe, which classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization, has repeatedly called for the Hamas government to reject violence, recognize Israel and state its commitment to past peace agreements.
"Such signs have unfortunately not come in recent weeks from Palestinian government," Steinmeier said. "So, they cannot be surprised if we suspend financial aid."
The Palestinian Authority's largest donor, the EU and its member states transfer some 500 million euros ($605 million) to the Palestinian government annually until last Friday's payment cut-off by the European Commission.
Working out how to prevent any cash getting into Hamas-controlled hands is a complex task, especially since the ministers could not agree on exactly what kinds of contacts to maintain with the Palestinian government and people.
EU rejects "blackmail" claims
Hamas's Prime Minister Ismail Haniya has accused the EU and US, of trying to "blackmail" his government by cutting funds to a democratically elected government.
"Our future will not be decided by decisions in Europe or in the rest of the world," said Yehya Mussa, a Hamas member of parliament. "Our people will not surrender and will not raise the white flag."
Around a hundred Palestinian youths took part in a protest in Gaza City Monday against the EU move, hurling eggs at the United Nations headquarters from where local EU staff are currently working.
Normal relations can return when the EU's conditions are met, Solana said
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw however defended the funding freeze, denying that the EU wanted to punish the Palestinian people.
"We do not wish to punish the Palestinian people for the decision they freely made to elect a Hamas-dominated government," he said. "At the same time, Hamas has got to recognize that being elected as a government, democratically, they have responsibilities as democrats to do what everybody else has to do as democrats, which is to eschew violence."
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana echoed the comments, saying if Hamas meets the three conditions, "we will deal with them normally."
"In any case we will do business as usual with the Palestinian people," he added. "We will try to help them so that they don't have to suffer any more than they have suffered already in the long years of occupation."
Lukashenko and other Minsk officials were banned from traveling in the EU
Travel ban for 31 Belarus officials
Earlier in the day's conference, the ministers confirmed a travel ban for recently re-elected Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and 30 other government officials, after elections last month widely condemned as rigged.
"We should impose that kind of measure in the future," Czech Foreign minister Cyril Svoboda told reporters, stressing the importance of exerting permanent pressure on what some call the "Europe's last dictatorship."
There has been no official reaction from Lukashenko, according to spokesman Pavel Lyogky.
"Probably there's no point voicing some kind of position," he told AFP. "It's unlikely that any official will comment. It's not worth it."