Defiant Hamas leaders strongly condemned the European Union's Monday decision to freeze financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, describing the move as an attempt to blackmail the new Hamas cabinet and force it to change its strategy. "This decision is wrong and unjust," said cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad. "They are punishing the Palestinians for making a democratic choice. This is a severe blow to the democratic parliamentary election." He claimed that the decision was part of Israel's policy to "starve and besiege" the Palestinians. "We were hoping that the European Union would take a decision to continue financial aid, not suspend it," he added. "We were hoping that the Europeans would denounce the Israeli atrocities against our people. Unfortunately, they have linked aid to the needy and refugees to political considerations." PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar lashed out at the EU, saying its decision to suspend financial aid would not serve the cause of stability and calm in the region. He too accused the EU of succumbing to Israeli and American pressure to boycott the new Hamas cabinet. Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek said that the cabinet was in a "very difficult" situation because Israel and its Western allies were trying to bring it down. "We're not going to lie to our people," he said after holding an emergency meeting with the top officials in his ministry. "The situation is very difficult, but we're not going to collapse despite the war that is being waged against us by Israel, the US and the EU." Abdel Razek said the cabinet would pay the salaries of all civil servants after receiving funds from Arab countries, including Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. In response to the EU decision, he said that the European leaders should take into consideration the fact that Hamas came to power through free and democratic elections. "They should ask themselves how they came to power," he said. "They are contradicting their own principles of democracy." Hamas also accused the former PA cabinet of mishandling funds, holding it responsible for the current economic crisis. "During the transitional period, the previous government took a number of steps to empty the Palestinian treasury," the movement said in a statement. "Its goal was to bring the Palestinian Authority to bankruptcy." In a related development, both Hamas and the PA attacked Israel's decision to cut off ties with the PA. "This is a declaration of war on the Palestinians," a senior Hamas official said. "We strongly condemn this decision which is aimed at driving a wedge between the Palestinians." PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who met with the US consul- general in Jerusalem, said the Israeli decision was in violation of all agreements signed with the Palestinians and international law. "This attempt to isolate the Palestinians won't work and we will break it, whatever the price," he told reporters in Ramallah.