(photo credit: AP)
The world should lift the financial embargo on the Palestinian Authority, despite the opposition of the United States and Israel, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said Thursday.
Mashaal was speaking to reporters in Cairo about the implications of the agreement signed in Mecca this month under which Hamas and Fatah have undertaken to form a coalition government that would respect existing peace accords with Israel.
Hamas and Fatah hope that it will lead to the lifting of the embargo on the Palestinians, which has cost millions of dollars in lost aid and caused thousands of civil servants to go unpaid for months.
The effect of the embargo - imposed because the Hamas government refused to renounce violence, recognize Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli accords - were highlighted in a United Nations report on Thursday. The report said that since the start of the blockade in March 2006, poverty had risen to the extent that almost half of the 3.7 million people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were liable to be short of food.
"This (Mecca) deal should lead to the lifting of the blockade," Mashaal told reporters after talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. "There is no other option."
The United States has said it will wait until the new Palestinian Cabinet is formed before declaring its position on the embargo, but Washington is believed to support the Israeli position, which is that the Mecca agreement does not go far enough toward recognizing Israel, the accords and renouncing violence.
Mashaal is expected to fly this weekend to Moscow to seek Russian support for ending the embargo. Russia is believed to be the member of the peace-promoting Quartet that is most sympathetic to regarding the Mecca deal as sufficient for a resumption of aid. The other Quartet members are the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.
Asked if he thought the United States would agree to lift the blockade, Mashaal said: "That is not important, because there is an international will that is being formed despite the American position."
Mashaal, who lives in exile in Syria, said he wanted Egypt to promote the Mecca accord as a basis for ending the embargo.
"Egypt has a big role to play in selling this agreement and ending the siege on the Palestinian people," he said.
Egypt, which has welcomed the Mecca agreement, has acted as the main broker between Hamas and Israel in efforts to release captured IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit.
In a meeting in Berlin on Wednesday, the representatives of the Quartet underscored their demand that any Palestinian government should satisfy the known conditions for resuming aid.
Israel has ruled out any talks on a final peace deal with Abbas if he goes ahead with the Mecca agreement.
In the UN report, the World Food Program and the Food and Agricultural Organization said that the Palestinian economic crisis has made previously secure workers - fishermen, farmers, and small traders - increasingly desperate.
"Many people, who cannot afford to buy food, have been forced to sell off valuable assets such as land or tools," the report said.
Kirstie Campbell, spokeswoman for the WFP, said 46 percent of Palestinians are now "food insecure" or vulnerable. In 2004, the percentage was 35.