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Israel Reviews Policies Towards Palestinians

15 February 2006

Israel's acting prime minister has ruled out talks with Palestinians unless Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas disarms members of the Islamic militant group Hamas. Israel has begun a review of its policy towards Palestinians as Hamas officials say they plan to name a government in the next few weeks.

Top Israeli policy-makers began a three-day review of how to deal with a new Hamas-dominated Palestinian government. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told reporters Israel would not negotiate with any Palestinians if Hamas chooses its own members to serve as either prime minister or parliament speaker.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told visiting U.S. Jewish leaders that as long as Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, and be involved in terrorism, Israel will have no contacts with any Palestinian government.

Mr. Olmert says not only will there be no contacts with Israel, the Palestinian Authority will also not get the support it needs on an international level.

Following their policy review this week, Israeli officials are expected to halt the transfer of about $50 million a month in tax and customs revenue to the Palestinian Authority.

The Hamas-led parliament is expected to convene this Saturday for the first time, following Hamas' victory in Palestinian legislative elections on January 25. Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip told the Associated Press that Hamas would be prepared to name a cabinet by early March. Speaking in Cairo on Tuesday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he believed Hamas would moderate its positions, following its accession to power.

Mr. Mubarak says he believe Hamas will show flexibility in its position towards Israel, and that Israel and Hamas could eventually reach a peace settlement. The Egyptian leader says the international community should evaluate the situation once Hamas forms a government.

Hamas officials have repeatedly said they will not recognize Israel or disarm. The group is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, and the European Union.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops shot and killed a young mentally disabled Palestinian man. Israeli troops say the man approached them waving a gun, which later turned out to be a toy, while they were searching for militants in the village of Qabatiya.

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