The American head of the UN agency aiding Palestinian refugees said yesterday her agency will not scale back contacts with the new Palestinian government and will meet Hamas leaders as part of its aid work.

Senior UN officials said earlier this week that the UN had advised its aid agencies to avoid meeting Hamas political leaders and to limit contacts to technocrats in the new Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

Karen Koning AbuZayd, commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, known as UNRWA, said she had not been advised to restrict her agency’s contacts to avoid Hamas political leaders.

AbuZayd said her agency planned to meet this weekend the Palestinian minister of refugees. The minister, Atef Odwan, is a senior Hamas leader. An UNRWA spokesman said AbuZayd would personally attend the meeting with Odwan.

John Ging, head of UNRWA’s Gaza operations, recently met Palestinian Interior Minister Saeed Seyam, Seyam’s office said. Seyam is a senior Hamas leader who used to work as a teacher for UNRWA.

“It does not make sense to reduce contacts when you are asked to increase your activity,” AbuZayd told a news briefing in Gaza. “We have no problem with our contacts as they have been in the past and they will continue in the future.”

“We might have to have even more contacts than in the past,” she added.

An UNRWA spokesman said the agency was not diverging from any advice it had received from UN headquarters “regarding what it needs to do as a humanitarian agency”.

AbuZayd said donor countries which decided to cut aid to the Hamas-led government should be aware of the consequences of their decision on the humanitarian conditions in Gaza and the West Bank, where a total of 3.8mn Palestinians live.

Published: Thursday, 13 April, 2006, 11:40 a.m. Doha Time