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Friday, February 9, 2007

As predicted - Hamas wants West to end blockade, Russia positive

The satisfaction of seeing this one coming is outweighed by the nature of the news. Cassandra didn't get much joy out of being correct.

Hamas wants West to end blockade, Russia positive

By Mohammed Assadi

MECCA, Saudi Arabia, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Hamas urged the West on Friday to accept a new Palestinian unity government but leading officials from the Islamist group said they would never recognise Israel nor abide by existing peace accords.

Hamas and its rival movement Fatah signed a deal on Thursday to end factional warfare that has killed scores of Palestinians and to form a coalition, hoping this would lead Western powers to lift crippling sanctions imposed on the Hamas-led government because the group rejects Israel.

Israeli officials said the coalition agreement failed to meet conditions to end sanctions and initial reaction from the United States and Europe was muted but Russia appealed for the lifting of a freeze on direct aid to the Palestinian government.

"The future Palestinian national government ... will be an important factor in the process of reviving Israeli-Palestinian talks," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"The implementation of Mecca agreements should be combined with lifting a blockade of the Palestinian territories which has inflicted suffering and hardship on the people."

Hamas government spokesman Ghazi Hamad told Reuters Saudi mediators were in touch with the Americans and Europeans to promote the accord.

"They (the West) cannot ignore this agreement and impose their own conditions," he said. "The European Union should open a dialogue with this new government and this is the only way to have stability in the region."

Nizar Rayyan, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza, welcomed the agreement reached in Mecca but said Hamas shunned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's call for Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who will form the new cabinet, to abide by previous peace accords.

"We will never recognise Israel. There is nothing called Israel," he told Reuters. "We, in the Hamas movement, will not abide by anything."

Hamas spokesman Ismail Rudwan said: "The recognition is not an option at all, is not discussable."

It was unclear if Rayyan and Rudwan were speaking on behalf of Hamas as a whole or expressing personal opinions.

The agreement made no mention of recognising Israel, a requirement laid down by the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- for lifting sanctions imposed on the Palestinian Authority after Hamas trounced Fatah in elections last year.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Quartet foreign ministers would next meet on Feb. 21 in Berlin.


Senior Israeli government officials said Israel did not think the unity deal sealed in Saudi Arabia between Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal met conditions to end sanctions.

"The conditions have not been met. This is not something we can live with," said one official, on condition of anonymity.

A formal Israeli response is expected after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's regular cabinet meeting on Sunday.

The United States, which spearheaded the economic sanctions, was cautious about the deal.

"We have not actually seen the agreement and it's important that we be given some time to look at the agreement, especially at the details of it," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

The European Union said on Friday it would study the deal "in a positive but cautious manner". France welcomed the agreement and said the international community should back the new government. Britain described the accord as "interesting".

Abbas advisor Nabil Amr said, however, that he feared the deal might not be enough to end sanctions, which Palestinians say were partly to blame for the violence that has killed 90 people since December.

"We don't have great expectations that this agreement will completely end the siege, but it will pave the way to end it," he told Reuters in an interview.

"We needed an agreement after the pressure of the black days (recent violence)."

Abbas had been seeking at the Mecca talks a clear statement that the new government would be "committed" to past accords, as a formula offering implicit recognition of Israel from Hamas.

A letter from Abbas reappointing Haniyeh as prime minister called on Hamas to "abide by the interests of the Palestinian people" and "respect international law and agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)".

Hamas officials and analysts say Haniyeh has five weeks to form the unity government and present the line-up and his platform to parliament for a vote of confidence. The next significant step, they said, was Haniyeh's platform speech.

"If in his speech Haniyeh commits his government to Abbas's letter it will imply recognition of Israel, but the likely scenario is that he will just say his government would respect past agreements signed by the PLO," one Hamas source said. (Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Steve Holland in Washington)

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