Palestinian minister accuses US of crimes against Muslim world

Newly-installed Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar said the United States is biased toward Israel, guilty of crimes against the Muslim and Arab world and is widening the rift between the American people and those of the Middle East.

Newly-installed Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar said the United States is biased toward Israel, guilty of crimes against the Muslim and Arab world and is widening the rift between the American people and those of the Middle East.

Zahar, considered one of the more hard-line officials in the Palestinians’ new Hamas-led government, also said his group would not cave in to international pressure to change its ways and that it had no plans to negotiate with Israel.

Responding to a statement by US President George Bush, that Washington would provide no aid to a Palestinian government headed by Hamas unless it changes its extremist policies, Zahar said Bush’s comments were in line with American support for Israel in the United Nations, and its massive aid to Israel.

“America is committing big crimes against the Arab and Islamic countries,” Zahar said. “This new decision, will intensify the gap between the American people, American interests and the Middle East in general,” Zahar said.

“America is giving around £1.7bn (€2.4bn) annually to expand settlements and to confiscate our rights and our land,” he said, referring to annual US aid to Israel.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, responded harshly.

“We obviously unequivocally reject that proposition, and I would note also to foreign minister Zahar that casual slander is an inauspicious way to begin,” he said.

“We will continue to judge Hamas by its actions, not its words,” Bolton said, charging that Hamas is a terror group “that is responsible for the murder of hundreds of innocent civilians.”

The United States lists Hamas as a terrorist organisation and is by law forbidden to deal with such groups.

The US and Israel have said they will not deal with Hamas unless it recognises Israel’s right to exist, renounces terrorism and respects all past commitments by the Palestinian Authority.

Canada cut off aid to the Palestinians’ new Hamas government shortly after it was sworn in yesterday, an action Zahar condemned as immoral.

“Is the Canadian state willing to starve the Palestinian people while the Israelis are committing major crimes against Palestinian industry, Palestinian society, the Palestinian economy, occupying their land,” he said. “Is this is a moral principle according to which Israel should be blessed and supported by the Canadian government and people?”

Zahar said Hamas would welcome aid from those wishing to help Palestinians overcome the Israeli occupation, “but if they are going to give this money to twist the neck of our national interests, we are not going to accept that.”

He said his group could have contacts with Israel and the US on day-to-day issues such as health and the environment, but “we have no intentions to make any meeting with any country at the expense on our national interests".

Zahar said Hamas would seek new international alliances beyond its traditional Arab friends.

“The new channels will be Africa, Asian countries, including China, and the South American continent, for assistance politically and also financially,” he said.

Despite his job title, it is unclear how much real influence Zahar will have on Palestinian foreign policy.

A 2003 amendment to the Palestinian constitution gives the president sole power to appoint or dismiss foreign service officers and to accredit foreign envoys.

Incumbent President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah Party opposes Hamas, favours negotiations with Israel and has declared his acceptance off the US-backed “road map” for Middle east peace, which envisages an independent Palestinian state, coexisting in peace with Israel.

In Jerusalem today, top US envoys and Israeli officials met to discuss the new Hamas-led government.

White House official Elliot Abrams and Assistant Secretary of State David Welch met with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and were to meet later Thursday with acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz, Stewart Tuttle, the US Embassy spokesman, said.

The talks were expected to focus on the repercussions of the new Hamas government and issues related to the road map, Tuttle said.

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