oPt

OPT: Big powers concerned at human cost of Gaza crisis

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By Mark John

BRUSSELS, June 15 (Reuters) - The international Quartet of Middle East peace mediators pledged full support to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday and expressed concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and EU officials held an emergency teleconference after the Islamist movement Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip.

"There was a clear message of support to President Abbas especially in this difficult time of forming an emergency government," a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said after the conversation of around an hour.

"There was great concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and a commitment to use all means to ensure humanitarian efforts can be realised," she said. The Quartet planned to discuss the crisis again early next week.

Russia separately called for calm and urged mediators to help to avert civil war. Egypt pulled its diplomats out of Gaza in protest at the Hamas takeover and Iran said the violence showed Palestinians had lost sight of their true enemy.

A U.S. official hinted the Quartet could in coming weeks lift the embargo on direct aid to the Palestinian Authority imposed after Hamas's election victory last year.

"It's still a pretty fluid situation. I think you'll have basically the intent to do so but I don't think you will have anything saying this afternoon we are going to deposit $50 million into a Palestinian Authority account," he said.

"STERLING REPUTATION"

The United States and the EU had earlier endorsed Abbas's decision to declare a state of emergency and vowed to stand behind Palestinian moderates.

The Quartet statement underlined the international will to bolster Abbas in his battle for power with Hamas, considered a terrorist group by the United States, the EU and Israel.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack described Abbas's choice for prime minister, the Western-backed independent Salam Fayyad, as enjoying "a sterling reputation."

He said Washington and its diplomatic partners were working on ways to help Abbas' government.

"We don't want to see the Palestinian people suffer as a result of the choices of a few people who decided to launch these attacks," McCormack said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to Israeli President Shimon Peres about the situation, which the Kremlin said caused "serious concern."

"The bloodshed is continuing and it is important to help the Palestinians to reunite. Civil war in Palestine is in no one's interest," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.

In London, a senior Foreign Office official said Britain was open to the idea of an international force in Gaza, which Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert suggested should monitor the Gaza-Egypt border to help counter the growing strength of Hamas.

In a blow to Hamas, long welcome in Cairo despite being shunned in the West, the head of Egypt's diplomatic mission in Gaza, Major-General Burhan Hammad, left with his entire staff as Hamas declared it had seized control of the enclave.

Iran, a key ally of Hamas, also signalled its displeasure.

"Unfortunately, Palestinian fighters have forgotten their main enemy and are fighting against each other instead of the Zionist regime (Israel)," said former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

"This ... is in line with the enemy's interests. It's exactly what they want," he told worshippers in Tehran.

(additional reporting by Adrian Croft in London and Arshad Mohammed in Washington)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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