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Rice Presses Hamas to Renounce Violence

19 March 2007

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday the new Palestinian unity government should unequivocally renounce violence to gain international recognition and enter peace talks with Israel. Rice conferred with top European Union officials on the new Palestinian cabinet, whose leader has called for continued "resistance" against Israel. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Bush administration is taking a somewhat more conciliatory approach to the new Palestinian government, saying it will have contacts with non-Hamas members of the cabinet.

But it is standing by its insistence that a Palestinian government must recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previous Palestinian-Israeli agreements if it is to expect international aid and be part of a regional peace process.

The formation of the new Palestinian government was a key issue in a day-long dialogue here by Secretary Rice and key officials of the European Union, including chief diplomat Javier Solana.

Solana expressed seeming eagerness by the Europeans to work with the new government, saying he hoped it would at least incrementally accept peacemaking terms of the international Middle East "Quartet," which includes the EU, Russia and the United Nations as well as the United States.

In the meantime, Solana suggested the actions of the unity government are more important that its rhetoric:

"We would like to continue working with the Palestinian people," said Javier Solana. "We are not going to let the Palestinian people down, and we hope very much to follow in great detail the facts, the deeds that this government behaves. It's much more important what they do that what they say at this point in time."

Secretary Rice however, seized on the declaration by the new government's prime minister Ismail Haniyeh - a holdover from the previous Hamas-led government - reaffirming the Palestinian's "right to resistance" against Israeli occupation:

"I'm not going to try and interpret what the right of resistance means," said Condoleezza Rice. "But I'll tell you, it doesn't sound very good to me when one talks about all forms of resistance. So I would put the question to the Palestinian government and to its prime minister. Do you mean the right of resistance by violence? And let's get an answer."

The comments here came as the military wing of Hamas claimed responsibility for a shooting attack Monday that wounded an Israeli civilian near the border with the Gaza strip, the first such act since the unity government took office Saturday.

Israel denounced the attack, saying it showed the new coalition was flouting the will of the international community, while the State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack called the incident clearly disturbing and unacceptable.

Earlier McCormack confirmed that unlike the U.S. political boycott of the previous Hamas-led Palestinian government, the United States is prepared to talk to non-Hamas members of the new cabinet.

He mentioned in particular the new finance minister, Salam Fayyad of the mainstream Fatah party, a U.S. educated economist with whom the United States had close ties before the Hamas election victory early last year.

Rice also discussed the new Palestinian government in a telephone conference call Monday with other principals of the Quartet.

A formal Quartet statement is expected Tuesday, which McCormack said would reaffirm a collective ban on direct aid to the Palestinian government unless it met all its terms for dialogue.

Rice is due to begin another mission to the Middle East at the end of this week that will include separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and talks in Cairo with foreign ministers of moderate Arab states.

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