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Norway Eases Diplomatic Boycott of Palestinian Authority

19 March 2007

A senior Norwegian official has met with the leader of the ruling Palestinian militant group Hamas, easing a diplomatic boycott. The meeting followed the formation of a Palestinian national unity government, and as Hamas launched its first attack against Israel since a cease-fire went into effect four months ago in the Gaza Strip. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Norway's deputy foreign minister, Raymond Johansen, met in Gaza with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. The meeting was the first between Haniyeh and a senior European diplomat since Western powers imposed crippling economic sanctions on Hamas a year ago.

The United States and European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization, but Norway is not a member of the European Union. Norway decided to restore diplomatic ties with the Palestinian Authority after Hamas formed a national unity government with the rival and more moderate Fatah faction.

Johansen spoke to reporters after the meeting.

"Well, we have had a very good meeting, where I very clearly stated support to this unity government from the Norwegian government," he said. "We see this as a very broad-based Palestinian government that deserves the support from the international community."

Israel is boycotting the new Palestinian government because it rejects two key international demands for lifting sanctions, namely, renunciation of violence and recognition of the Jewish state.

In its first attack since the new government assumed power on Saturday, Hamas claimed responsibility for a sniper shooting that wounded an Israeli civilian near a border crossing in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli spokeswoman Miri Eisen says that reinforces Israel's position.

"This is a direct result of the guidelines of this government." said Miri Eisen. "We will not recognize or deal with a government that openly supports terror."

Israel is also urging the international community to boycott the new government. Eisen says she believes Norway is the exception and not the rule.

"Norway's done one thing; the rest of the world is doing something else. We have heard very clearly all of the different international voices talking about the fact that this new government must accept first and foremost the clear renunciation of terror," she said.

Nevertheless, Russia and France are calling for sanctions on the Palestinian Authority to be lifted and the Palestinians are launching a diplomatic blitz in Europe to encourage other nations to follow suit.

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