Thursday, February 22, 2007

Diplomatic maneuvers over 'Mecca agreement'

By News Agencies

Hamas accused the United States on Thursday of trying to thwart European efforts to ease an economic blockade of a new Palestinian unity government.

The Quartet, comprising the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, repeated a demand on Wednesday that any Palestinian government renounce violence, recognize Israel and respect interim peace deals.

The United States wants to continue to shun the government if it does not meet the three conditions, whereas Russia and other European governments favor a softer line.

Hamas said Thursday it was encouraged by what it called a "wait and see" approach by the Quartet of Middle East mediators towards the unity government.

"They [the Quartet] have decided to wait and see until the new government is formed and they have not rushed to reiterate the continuation of the siege and sanctions," Hamas cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad said. "They have left the door open for the possibility of opening a dialogue."

But Palestinian Information Minister Youssef Rizqa of Hamas said: "It [the United States] aims to undermine the European and Russian efforts in order to continue the siege imposed on our people."

Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal said Thursday that the world should lift the financial embargo on the Palestinian Authority, despite the opposition of the U.S. and Israel.

Mashaal was speaking to reporters in Cairo about the implications of the
agreement signed in Mecca this month.

"This [Mecca] deal should lead to the lifting of the blockade," Meshal told reporters after talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. "There is no other option."

Asked if he thought the United States would agree to lift the blockade,
Meshal said: "That is not important, because there is an international will that is being formed despite the American position.

Israel: Quartet holding firm to its three demands
The Foreign Ministry on Thursday said that a Quartet statement issued Wednesday was a sign that the group of international Middle East peace negotiators are holding firm on their three conditions.

Israel pointed to statements by the Quartet after a meeting in Berlin as a sign that the group would hold the new government to the three conditions. "They're not obstacles to peace, they are prerequisites for a successful peace process," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.

The unity government deal between the ruling Hamas movement and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction has widened divisions within the Quartet.

Citing the divisions, Hamas' Hamad said: "I believe there is a possibility to change the Quartet's position in a more positive manner to deal with the government."

Abbas political adviser Ahmed Abdel-Rahman said the Quartet "will open the door" to restoring ties with the Palestinian government once it fully understands the unity government deal.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas has said he hopes to announce a new government within three weeks.

Hamad said progress was being made and key decisions would be taken next week.

The unity agreement contained a vague promise to "respect" previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements but did not directly commit the new government to renouncing violence or recognizing Israel.

"In the unity government, we have adopted a political agenda that leaves a large amount of room for political movement that could be developed. The political agenda can be used by the international community to make a serious political process," Hamad said, though he gave no details.

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