Thu, Feb 16, 2006 - Page 7 News List

US says it will not oust Hamas

TROUBLED TRANSITION Washington officials warned, however, that they will cut off aid to the Palestinian government if the militant group does not renounce violence

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

US and Israeli officials warned again on Tuesday that they would cut off aid and transfers of tax receipts to a Hamas-led Palestinian government if it did not renounce violence and recognize Israel. They said, however, that they had no plans to oust such a government.

"The bottom line is that there is no US-Israeli plan, project, plot, conspiracy to destabilize or undermine a future Palestinian government," said Sean McCormack, a State Department spokesman.

He spoke in response to an article in the New York Times on Tuesday in which US and Israeli officials and diplomats said they were discussing ways to destabilize the Palestinian government, with the intention of forcing new elections. Those officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the issue, said the discussions were going on at the highest levels of the US State Department and the Israeli government.

The article said that if Hamas did not alter its policy, the two governments would seek to bring about the Palestinian Authority's isolation and collapse by cutting payments and controlling entry and exits into the Palestinian areas. They would also try to stop money transfers through pressure on other governments and on the currency used in the Palestinian areas, the Israeli shekel.

Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, dismissed any reports "about some sort of plan that was talking about forcing Hamas from power so that there could be new elections."

What there was, McClellan and McCormack said, was a threat to cut off aid to the Palestinians if Hamas does not renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept previous agreements.

This warning was conveyed two weeks ago by the US, Europe, the UN secretary-general and Russia, and it was repeated on Tuesday by Israel.

Daniel Ayalon, the Israeli ambassador to the US, said, "We emphasize that we do not want to harm the Palestinian people, and that it is their choice whether to abide by international norms or become a terrorist entity."

However, an Israeli official said anonymously that some officials might have begun thinking about scenarios in which Hamas might fall if aid is cut off.

"Part of diplomacy is discussing different scenarios, but without any intention to bring them into an action plan," he said.

In Gaza, a Hamas spokesman, Mushir al-Masri, said any effort to bring down a freely elected Hamas government would be "a rejection of the democratic process, which the Americans are calling for day and night."

Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections on Jan. 25, but several analysts have noted that Fatah might have won if its votes had not been split.

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