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Germany

Merkel Will Not See Hamas Officials on Mideast Trip

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the first foreign leader to visit the Palestinian territories since elections there, will not meet Hamas officials despite the radical Islamic group's dramatic victory.

Angela Merkel won't be meeting with Hamas on her upcoming Mideast trip

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is traveling to Israel and the Palestinian territories on Sunday as part of her first visit to the Middle East since she came into office in November. Her visit will attract a good deal of international attention because she will be the first foreign leader to travel to the region since the Palestinian elections on Wednesday.

The question of who she will meet in the Palestinian territories was on everyone's lips, but Berlin has confirmed Mekel will only hold talks with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas.

"Our only interlocutor is president (Mahmud) Abbas," government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said ahead of Merkel's departure.

Wilhelm said Friday that Germany had four conditions for dialog with Hamas: recognizing Israel's right to exist, renouncing violence, disarming, and upholding international commitments made in the context of the peace process.

He said the government respected the outcome of the Palestinian general election "as the will of the people" and described the poll as "free and fair." But he said that Germany hoped any new members of a Palestinian government would "live up to their responsibilities".

"The chancellor stresses her hope that the political forces in the Palestinian territories will live up to their responsibilities and do everything in their power to seek an end to violence and develop their country," he said.

He said that the European Union and the United States were coordinating closely on how to move forward "in this difficult situation" after the Hamas victory.

Monday "quartet" meeting

Wilhelm noted the so-called Mideast Quartet -- grouping the EU, Russia, the United Nations and the United States -- would meet Monday in London to weigh the outcome of the poll and coordinate policy.

Palestinian supporters of Islamic Hamas

The Quartet said late Thursday that "there is a fundamental contradiction between armed group and militia activities and the building of a democratic state.

"A two-state solution to the conflict requires all participants in the democratic process to renounce violence and terror, accept Israel's right to exist, and disarm."

Funding

Some German officials said the EU should consider cutting off funding to the Palestinian Authority in the wake of the Hamas win.

"It is largely dependent on the behavior of Hamas," said Overseas Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul. "That is what will decide whether we as a government continue our aid for the people in the Palestinian territories."

Hamas is considered a terrorist group by the the EU, the US and Israel

The EU has said it stands ready to continue support for the Palestinians but that it also expected Hamas to commit to ending violence and supporting democratic principles.

The European Commission offered an aid package worth 280 million euros (342 million dollars) to the Palestinian people last year, of which 70 million was channelled to the Palestinian Authority through a World Bank trust fund.

Time of political upheaval

The chancellor's timing for her first Middle East trip comes during a period of political upheaval, and many in Berlin wondered if the visit would actually take place given the circumstances. Not only has the election of Hamas resulted in a large question mark for the future of peace negotiations; Israel has had a caretaker government since early this month after veteran Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was hospitalized following a massive brain hemorrhage. And elections planned for March could result in a further change of the region's political landscape.

Merkel will meet with Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas, as well as with Israeli officials

As the first foreign leader to visit Israel since Ehud Olmert took over as acting prime minister on Jan. 4, Merkel will be watched closely. She will meet with the leader for a working dinner Monday and will hold talks with President Moshe Katsav, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Likud party chief Benjamin Netanyahu and Labour party leader Amir Peretz.

Spokesman Wilhelm said Merkel would stress that Germany's position on the Middle East remained unaltered. "Acknowledgement of Israel's security and its right of existence remains an unalterable corner stone of German foreign policy," he said.

No change in policy

"At the same time the German government continues to back the international community's road map for peace. The Palestinian people have a right to its own state that can exist side-by-side with Israel in peace and security and within recognized borders."

Wilhelm added Merkel would speak with Israeli officials about the recent anti-Semitic outbursts by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Tehran's decision to resume sensitive nuclear work.

While in Israel, the chancellor will pay tribute to victims of the Holocaust by laying a wreath at the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem.

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