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Abbas's government urges Europe to shun Hamas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the West Bank city of Ramallah March 4, 2009. REUTERS/Fadi Arouri

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Western-backed government warned European states on Monday against easing a boycott of Hamas Islamists, saying it could put unity talks at risk.

Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said he relayed that message last week to European leaders during talks in Brussels.

Egyptian efforts to reconcile Abbas’s secular Fatah faction, which holds sway in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, have so far been unsuccessful.

The talks, held in Cairo, were adjourned last week without agreement on the shape or agenda of a proposed unity government that would oversee the rebuilding of the Gaza Strip after Israel’s offensive, as well as prepare for new elections.

Negotiations are expected to resume but big differences remain, including over demands by Fatah that Hamas agree to abide by interim peace agreements signed with Israel. Hamas has refused to make such a commitment.

The Islamist group, which beat Fatah in a 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election, is shunned by the United States and the European Union as a “terrorist” organisation for refusing to renounce violence, recognise Israel and abide by interim agreements.

But some European states have limited contacts with the group and hold out the possibility of further engagement if the group, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 after routing Abbas’s forces there, softens its stance on Israel.

Malki said European overtures could undermine the unity talks by giving Hamas the impression that “the international community, and especially the European Union, is ready to change its position towards Hamas”, whether the group agrees to abide by interim agreements or not.

“There wouldn’t be any harm if (European states) talked to Hamas after we reach a reconciliation agreement and after Hamas joins the parties committed to the agreements,” Malki said.

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