Saudi Arabia Nixes U.S. Appeal to Withhold Aid From Hamas-led PA

Rejection comes after Rice similarly rebuffed by Egypt; Saudi FM: Aid based on humanitarian needs only.

Saudi Arabia deepened a U.S.-Arab split over Hamas on Wednesday, joining Egypt's rejection of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's appeal for neighbors to deny aid to a Palestinian government led by the militant group.

Saudi Arabia, one of the biggest donors to the Palestinians, warned against the U.S. position of stopping aid before seeing what policies the Islamic group adopts in government.

And Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said at a late night news conference with Rice that all aid to Palestinians should be based only on humanitarian needs.

That contrasts with the United States, which has said it will continue humanitarian aid but cut off assistance to a government led by a group it considers a terrorist organization.

"The kingdom affirmed its complete commitment to avoid jumping to make prejudgments," he said.

"(Saudi Arabia) hopes that international aid for the Palestinian people should be linked only with the pressing humanitarian need of this people," he said.

Stopping aid for a sewerage system infrastructure, which is the sort of project the United States wants to be starved of funding, was effectively denying Palestinians humanitarian help, he added.

Saudi Arabia's rejection comes a day after Rice was similarly rebuffed by another Arab ally, Egypt, which is a key regional influence on positions toward the Palestinians even though it is not a large donor.

She heads to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday for a meeting with ministers from Gulf countries and was expected to hear the same.

The Palestinian government needs about 1.8 billion euros in aid each year and officials in the interim government say it is heading for a financial crisis.

Hamas has so far been unswayed by pressure to change its anti-Israel stance and says threats to stop aid are blackmail.

The United States has won backing from most allies, including from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to press the group to reverse its long-held doctrine and look for peace with Israel.

But despite hours-long meetings with regional leaders, Rice's Middle East tour has underscored the distance between the United States and its allies on how hard to press Hamas.

Senior U.S. officials traveling with Rice to lobby against Hamas were at a loss to cite any country that has pledged to the United States it will immediately end aid when the group takes over the government in the next few weeks.

Rice also acknowledged allies diverged from the United States hard line.

"Different countries will have different modalities and how to deal with this. For the United States, Hamas is a terrorist organization. We cannot give funding to a terrorist organization," she said.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are given to Palestinians from Saudi Arabia each year.

One senior U.S. official told reporters the Saudi government was sensitive to support in the wealthy kingdom for Palestinians and could not take a position that could be seen to harm their fellow Arabs.

"In the political context, they don't want it to backfire on them," said the official, who asked for anonymity because he was explaining another government's position.