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In a break with EU policy, European parliamentarians met Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas in Gaza City on Tuesday and called for an end to the aid embargo on the Palestinian Authority government.
The meeting was the first between a European parliament delegation and the Hamas leader since the Islamic group came to power last year.
The EU considers Hamas a terrorist organization because it has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombing attacks. Also, the EU does not recognize the new Palestinian coalition government, because it has not clearly responded to international demands to renounce violence, accept past peace agreements and recognize Israel.
The EU boycott is includes a ban on meeting Hamas officials.
The visiting European parliamentary representatives countered that talking with Hamas-affiliated members of the PA government was important.
"Our visit here is very symbolic," said Kyriacos Triantaphyllides from Cyprus. The EU "has a need to deal with this government, because we consider this an opportunity for the road to peace."
Caroline Lucas, an EU parliamentarian from England, said member states and the European Commission "put us under pressure not to do it."
"But we were united in the belief that we have called Palestinians to respect democracy," she said, "and so it's somewhat perverse not to recognize (the government)." Hamas won a parliamentary election in January, 2006.
Triantaphyllides said the West should recognize the new PA government and resume aid.
"The opportunity of a government of national unity...should not be missed. We are of the opinion that the financial embargo should be lifted," he said at a news conference with Haniyeh.
Donors still provide aid, but it bypasses the government, and experts say that makes it less effective.
The European Commission spokesman declined to comment.
Israel criticized the delegation for visiting Hamas officials.
"The Hamas leadership stubbornly refuses to meet the international community's benchmarks. Meeting an unreformed extremist Hamas is only giving legitimacy and recognition to a group that supports terrorism and is opposed to peace," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.