February 9, 2007 / 1:20 AM / 11 years ago

Hamas wants West to end blockade

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (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 recognize Israel nor abide by existing peace accords.

Hamas and its rival movement Fatah signed a deal in Mecca on Thursday to form a coalition, hoping it would end factional warfare that has killed scores of Palestinians and lead Western powers to lift crippling sanctions imposed on the Hamas-led government for refusing to recognize Israel.

Israeli officials said the coalition deal failed to meet Western conditions to end the sanctions and initial reaction from the United States and Europe was muted, while Russia called for a restoration of aid.

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

Another senior official said: “Although we do not know yet what the agreed Palestinian government policy guidelines will be, in the paper that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas presented... it is obvious that it does not meet the conditions laid out by the Quartet (of Middle East mediators).”

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

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 but said Hamas shunned Abbas’s call for Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who will form the new cabinet, to abide by previous peace accords.

“We will never recognize 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 -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- for lifting the sanctions imposed after Hamas beat Fatah in elections last year.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R), Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal (C) and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (L) walk inside the Grand Mosque in Mecca, early February 9, 2007. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

The Russian Foreign Ministry welcomed the Palestinian agreement and said Quartet foreign ministers would next meet on February 21 in Berlin.

“The future Palestinian national government ... will be an important factor in the process of reviving Israeli-Palestinian talks,” Russian 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.”

U.S. CAUTIOUS

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal stand in front of the black stone inside the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque in Mecca, early February 9, 2007. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

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 Organization (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.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Steve Holland in Washington and Jonathan Saul in Jerusalem

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