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World News

Hamas says deal on Palestinian government needs time

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Egyptian-sponsored Palestinian reconciliation talks are stuck over recognition of Israel and there may be no deal before an Arab summit at the end of this month, a Hamas official said on Wednesday.

President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction wants a proposed unity government to honour past agreements with Israel, including the 1993 Oslo accords that recognised the Jewish state. Hamas refuses, official Sami Khater said.

A unity government could help accelerate the international effort to rebuild Gaza after the Israeli invasion of the territory was halted in January, and change a policy by Western powers to boycott Hamas.

“The Oslo accords recognised Israel. They (Fatah) want this as a condition to form a government of national unity. We say no,” Khater, who is a member of Hamas’s politburo, told reporters in the Syrian capital.

The United Sates, Israel’s chief ally, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- which form the quartet of Middle East negotiators -- demand that Hamas recognise interim peace accords struck between the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and Israel, renounce armed struggle and recognise Israel.

Khater said there was no need to revive discussions on these issues because Hamas had already agreed with Fatah on how to deal with them.

He pointed to understandings with Fatah in the last few years that called for negotiations with Israel if the Jewish state agrees to withdraw from land it has occupied since 1967 and resistance focussed on peaceful means.

“The main issue we are facing is abiding by the agreements made by the PLO (and Israel), which we interpret as accepting the conditions of the quartet,” Khater said.

“Palestinian national reconciliation cannot be achieved according to foreign conditions,” he said.

EGYPT KEEN ON DEAL

Egypt had wanted the talks, which began on March 10 in Cairo, to conclude in 10 days, but Khater said they may go beyond March 30, when an Arab summit convenes in Doha.

A Palestinian unity government by then would be seen as diplomatic victory for Egypt, which has come under criticism in the Arab world for cooperating with Israel in its blockade on Gaza.

“We want to end the Palestinian schism. Most important is to serve Palestinian national interests even if an agreement is not reached before the summit,” Khater said.

He was speaking after a parliamentary delegation from Greece and Italy met Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who lives in Syria along with other exiled Palestine leaders. British parliamentarians met with Meshaal last week.

The MPs said Europe should no longer ignore Hamas after the three-week Israeli offensive on Gaza. International donors pledged around $4.5 billion (3 billion pounds) to rebuild Gaza but are wary of starting projects without the presence of Western-backed Abbas and his Fatah faction in the territory.

Hamas defeated Abbas’s forces and took control of Gaza in 2007, prompting Western isolation on the group to deepen.

Editing by Angus MacSwan

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