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Senior U.S. Envoy Meets Palestinian Leaders

25 February 2006 -- U.S. envoy David Welch held talks today with Palestinian officials in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

It was the first high-level meeting between the Palestinians and the United States since the militant Islamist group Hamas won a surprise victory in Palestinian legislative elections last month.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Welch told him that Washington would continue to help the Palestinians but that it would redirect its aid.

The United States, like the European Union, has threatened to cut its financial support for the Palestinians unless Hamas recognizes Israel's right to exist and renounces the use of violence. Washington and the EU are the main donors for the Palestinians.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas today urged the international community to give Hamas a grace period, but also suggested he might step down if Hamas did not moderate its hard-line anti-Israeli position.