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Arab ministers say respect Palestinian Hamas choice

Written by: Staff

CAIRO, Mar 5 (Reuters) Arab foreign ministers meeting ahead of a summit later this month called on the international community to respect the Palestinian people's choice in electing Islamist militant group Hamas to lead them.

The United States and Israel have been trying to isolate the group since its landslide victory in the January 25 Palestinian parliamentary elections, demanding it recognise Israel and renounce violence.

''The ministers called on the international community, and the Quartet in particular, to respect the will of the Palestinian people ... (to respect) their freedom to choose their leadership in a democratic way,'' an Arab League official said.

Hamas leaders, in Russia for their first visit to a major foreign power, rejected yesterday Russian appeals to recognise Israel or disband the group's armed wing, which has carried out some 60 suicide bombings against Israelis during an uprising that began in 2000.

The United States and European Union, which brand Hamas a terrorist organisation, have said that a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority would risk losing crucial foreign aid unless the group disarmed and recognised Israel.

Russia, the United States, the United Nations and European Union together form the ''Quartet'' of West Asia peace mediators.

The Arab ministers also called on the world to ''desist from taking prejudiced positions and imposing biased conditions when dealing with the elected leadership.'' Their meeting came ahead of an Arab summit in Sudan on March 28.

Officials from Hamas, which calls for Israel's destruction in its charter, have said they will not compromise their principles for aid, saying alternative funding could come from Arab and Islamic countries.

Hamas says recognising Israel would damage Palestinian interests and says Israeli military action justifies maintaining an armed Hamas wing. Israel says its military action protects its citizens.


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