Abbas Meets Hamas' Haniyeh to Discuss PA Financial Crisis

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas met yesterday with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to discuss security disputes and ways to end an international financial boycott threatening to bankrupt the Hamas-led government.

Abbas met at his office in Gaza City after nightfall with Haniyeh, whose militant Hamas defeated Abbas' Fatah movement in a January election. Representatives of the two negotiated all day yesterday in efforts to enable the meeting and reach understandings on the beginning of a dialog that would end the struggle over powers between Abbas' office and the Hamas-led government.

Abbas aide Azzam Al-Ahmed, the head of Fatah's parliamentary delegation, told reporters after a preparatory meeting with Haniyeh that the leaders would likely discuss ways to curtail a U.S.-led suspension of aid to the Palestinian Authority.

He said the sanctions amounted to punishment of all Palestinians and that he and Haniyeh had discussed "how to get out of this problem and how to unify the Palestinian people ahead of a comprehensive dialog."

Ahmed said he hoped "a more realistic formula to deal with the international community can be reached."

The U.S. and the European Union have frozen direct aid to the PA to try to force Hamas to recognize Israel and abide by interim peace deals.

Quartet representatives plan to meet Tuesday in an attempt to develop a formula that will allow humanitarian aid to the civilian population without the involvement of the Palestinian government.

Senior United Nations officials told Haaretz that the UN, U.S., EU and Russian representatives will discuss the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the territories and ways to provide financial aid to Palestinian and international entities.

The one-day session will take place in the UN's New York headquarters and will be attended by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, as well as Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, who currently holds the EU presidency.

UN sources quoted UNRWA's Gaza director of operations John Ging, who reported that Gaza hospitals are suffering shortages of medical supplies and that "there has been a large increase in the number of refugees coming to our centers seeking food aid and cash assistance."

A Hamas cabinet minister thanked Sweden yesterday for granting him a visa to attend a conference in the country, calling the controversial decision "a political message," news reports said.

"This good behavior sends a political message to our people - there is someone who loves justice," Swedish media quoted Atef Adwan as saying in a speech at a conference in Malmo, southern Sweden, for Palestinian refugees.

Sweden's decision to grant Adwan a visa has riled Israel, which said it lent legitimacy to Hamas, and France, which recently rejected visa applications from other members of Hamas. The visa was issued by the Swedish Consulate in Jerusalem this week, and allows Adwan to enter any of the 15 EU countries bound by the Schengen accords that allow for open border crossings.

Israel's Foreign Ministry and embassy in Stockholm harshly criticized the decision as counterproductive to international efforts to force Hamas to recognize Israel, accept past peace agreements and renounce violence.

Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson on Friday rejected the criticism, saying all 15 Schengen members had been notified of the visa application and that none had objected to it.

Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by the EU and the U.S.