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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Abbas sees talks with Hamas at "dead end": official

Abbas sees talks with Hamas at "dead end": official
Tue Nov 28, 2006 12:55 PM ET

By Wafa Amr

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has told
Jordan that talks on a unity government with Hamas have hit a "dead end" and
he will pursue other options, a senior Palestinian official said on Tuesday.

The "other options" could include the dismissal of the Hamas-led government
and the appointment of a new prime minister, moves that would signify a new
hard line against Hamas that could shake up the Palestinian political process.

Abbas's statement comes a day after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an
appeal for peace with the Palestinians and two days before he is to meet U.S.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, suggesting that it is part a bout of
fresh diplomacy.

If Abbas were to dismiss the Hamas-led government and form a new one, it could
open the way for Western financial sanctions, imposed after Hamas came to
power in March, to be lifted, removing a heavy burden restraining the
Palestinian economy.

At the same time, any move to dismiss Hamas from power, or to call a
referendum on whether a new government should be formed, is likely to incite
anger among supporters of the Islamist group and may deepen internal violence.

Following the reports of Abbas's statement, Hamas acknowledged that talks on a
unity government, which have been off-and-on for months, were at a severe
impasse, but said it still hoped that a way forward could be found.

The senior Palestinian official said Abbas had told Jordanian officials during
talks in Amman that: "Talks with Hamas over a unity government have come to a
dead end. This is not an option he will pursue," the official said of Abbas.

"He is now thinking of other options," having given up hope of reaching an
agreement with Hamas, the official said.

Abbas has been trying to get Hamas to meet Western demands to recognize Israel
and renounce violence. Hamas, which is formally committed to Israel's
destruction, has resisted the calls.


Abbas is to meet Rice in the West Bank town of Jericho on Thursday amid
growing U.S. pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to show progress on
ending decades of conflict.

President George W. Bush and Rice are due in neighboring Jordan on Wednesday
for talks with Iraqi and other regional leaders and are widely expected to
address the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Many diplomats believe that making progress on other issues in the Middle
East, including the conflict in Iraq and the influence of Syria and Iran in
Lebanon, depends in large part on finding a solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Abbas earlier welcomed Olmert's major policy speech on Monday, which expressed
willingness to return to peace talks under the U.S.-backed "road map" and to
free Palestinian prisoners in exchange for an Israeli soldier held in Gaza.

Olmert also said peace talks could not be held before a Palestinian government
was set up that replaced the one now headed by Hamas. He has said he would
like to meet Abbas for talks as soon as possible, but no date has been fixed.

In a sign of the growing uncertainty about the Hamas-led government's future,
Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas figure, left the Gaza Strip on
Tuesday for a trip in the region that advisers said could last for more than a

He is expected to join other senior Hamas figures who have gone abroad to try
to raise funds to keep their government functioning in the absence of the
direct aid flows that have been stopped by the Western embargo.

After nearly five months of daily clashes in Gaza, Israel and the Palestinians
agreed a truce on Sunday that saw Israeli troops withdraw from the narrow
coastal territory in exchange for Palestinian militants ceasing to fire
rockets into Israel.

Since the ceasefire was struck, at least a dozen rockets have been fired at
Israel, causing some damage and minor injuries to civilians in the nearby
Israeli town of Sderot. Israeli troops have so far kept out of Gaza.

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