Hamas "shocked" at Arab endorsement of Annapolis

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GAZA, Nov 24 (Reuters) Hamas today condemned a decision by Arab powers to endorse next week's US-hosted Israeli-Palestinian peace conference, saying the talks would favour the Jewish state's policies rather than Palestinian demands.

Islamist Hamas, which refuses to recognise Israel and broke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after seizing control of the Gaza Strip in a June civil war, is excluded from the Nov.

27 conference in Annapolis, Maryland.

Arab League ministers agreed yesterday to attend the conference in the hope of promoting the creation of a Palestinian state and pushing for Israel to return the occupied Golan Heights to Syria as part of a regional peace process.

Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri called the announcement ''a great shock for Palestinians because it opened the door for direct normalisation with the occupation (Israel) amid (its) continued escalation and aggression''.

''The Palestinian people had awaited an Arab consensus for breaking the siege,'' Abu Zuhri said in a statement, referring to a Western aid embargo and Israeli military crackdowns on Gaza since Hamas swept to power in 2006 elections.

''This meeting will only achieve more failure and more harm to the Palestinian cause and to Arab and Palestinian rights.'' Saudi Arabia, long a Hamas patron, has said it will come to Annapolis despite having no formal ties with Israel. Syria, which hosts Hamas's foreign headquarters, wants clarification on the conference's agenda before it decides whether to attend.

The Arab League has offered Israel recognition if it quits lands captured in a 1967 West Asia war and agrees to solving the Palestinian refugee problem. Israel has balked at discussing ''core issues'' like refugees and borders at this stage.

Reuters RJ RN1853

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