SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a hard line against the Islamist Hamas group on Monday and said $900 million in U.S. aid for the Palestinians was part of a broader bid for Arab-Israeli peace.
Underlining the U.S. administration's position, Clinton said no money would go to Hamas which must recognize Israel, renounce violence and sign on to past Israeli and Palestinian agreements if it wanted to come out of isolation.
In her first foray into Arab-Israeli peacemaking, Clinton said President Barack Obama's administration was committed to pursuing an Arab-Israeli peace and that the aid package, about a third of it for Gaza, was aimed at accelerating those efforts.
"Our response to today's crisis in Gaza cannot be separated from our broader efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace," Clinton told an international donors' conference held for Gaza in the Egyptian coastal resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.
"Only by acting now can we turn this crisis into an opportunity that moves us closer to our shared goals," she said.
Later on Monday, Clinton will go to Israel and the West Bank where the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East for the Obama administration, George Mitchell, has been speaking to both sides to assess options for restarting peace talks.
"We will vigorously pursue a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," said Clinton, whose husband, President Bill Clinton failed to secure an elusive peace deal.
Of the more than $900 million in U.S. funding, which has to be agreed by the U.S. Congress, $300 million was earmarked specifically to provide urgent humanitarian aid for Gaza after Israel's military offensive in December.
Clinton was adamant that none of that money would go to Hamas, which rules Gaza and which Washington labels a terrorist organization. "We have worked with the Palestinian Authority to install safeguards that will ensure our funding is only used where and for whom it is intended and does not end up in the wrong hands," she said.
A key goal of the U.S. funding is to shore up the Western-backed government of President Mahmoud Abbas, who governs the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Of the U.S. package, $200 million will help cover budget shortfalls of Abbas's government with $400 million for economic reform and private sector and other projects on the West Bank.
Palestinian factions are in reconciliation talks to form a unity government that could include Hamas and Clinton said the Palestinian Authority of Abbas offered a more peaceful future.
"Not the violence and false choices of extremists whose tactics including rocket attacks that continue to this day, only will lead to more hardship and suffering," she said, in reference to rockets fired from Hamas into the Jewish state.
"For the Palestinians, it means that it is time to break the cycle of rejection and resistance and to cut the strings pulled by those who exploit the suffering of innocent people," she said.
Before leaving for Israel, Clinton was to meet the other members of the quartet of Middle East peacemakers - the United Nations, European Union and Russia. U.S. officials said she would push them to maintain a hard line on Hamas.
Israeli politicians are seeking to form a new government and Clinton -- in apparent reference to hawkish prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu - said Israelis needed to show the Palestinians that there were benefits to negotiating.
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