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Abbas's office, Hamas row over unity govt

Written by: Staff

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Sept 17: The ruling Hamas movement and President Mahmoud Abbas's office accused each other today of trying to derail a planned Palestinian unity government that officials hope will lift Western sanctions.

Abbas aides said the president had frozen talks on the coalition after Hamas said it would not accept interim peace deals with Israel. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said talks had only been delayed while Abbas visited New York.

The row underscores the difficulties of forming a unity government between two factions that have starkly different views of Israel and threatens to unravel efforts to restore direct Western aid that was cut when Hamas took office in March.

One Abbas aide, Ahmad Abdel-Rahman, said the Hamas militant movement had reneged on the unity government deal, which Abbas and Haniyeh agreed last Monday.

He said talks would be frozen until Abbas returned from a trip to New York this week where he will attend the UN General Assembly. Hamas seeks Israel's destruction while Abbas and his Fatah movement want a two-state solution through negotiations.

''The president has frozen measures to form a unity government after the conflicting statements issued by Hamas and its leaders, which have prompted unfavourable international reactions,'' Abdel-Rahman told Reuters.

Haniyeh denied Abbas had frozen talks.

''There is an agreement between myself and President Abbas to resume the dialogue when he comes back,'' Haniyeh told reporters.

''It seems that statements were made by some people who do not want to see formation of the national unity government.'' Abbas earlier left the West Bank for Amman en route to the United States, aides said. It was unclear when he would return.

On Saturday, Haniyeh insisted a document penned by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails that serves as the basis for the unity guidelines ''does not recognise the occupation'' -- Hamas's term for Israel -- nor accepts existing peace deals. The unity coalition deal states the new government would ''honour'' past peace agreements including the 1993 Oslo peace accords, Abbas aides have said.

''At the time the president is trying to market the unity government programme to international envoys, Haniyeh and Hamas officials announce they are not committed to (past peace) agreements,'' Abdel-Rahman said.

''Hamas has turned against the small progress that was achieved in the wording of the new political programme.'' Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri declined to say if Hamas had sought to introduce changes to the political agenda agreed with Abbas, saying ''consultations are continuing''.

U.S. officials say the terms of the unity deal fall short of three conditions laid down by the Quartet of Middle East mediators -- that any Palestinian government recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept interim peace accords.

Palestinian officials have said Abbas would meet U.S.

President George W. Bush on the sidelines of the U.N. meeting on Wednesday. The White House said it could not confirm or deny talks were planned.

Washington has threatened to shun officials from Fatah if they join a government that does not meet the three conditions.

Hamas trounced the long-dominant Fatah in January elections.

Israeli Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit said the Jewish state was not interested in verbal gymnastics from the new government.

''If it will not be in a way that everyone understands, that they are recognising the State of Israel, that they are going to fight terror ... then this unity government will not help,'' Sheetrit told Reuters.

But the European Union has praised Abbas's deal with Hamas and suggested direct aid could be renewed.


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