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US Welcomes Prospect of Israel-Hamas Truce

By David Gollust
17 June 2008

The United States said Tuesday it would welcome the Egyptian-brokered truce deal between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas that reportedly is to begin Thursday. But, the State Department says the pending cease-fire accord does not alter its view of Hamas as a terrorist organization. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The United States and other major powers have shunned contacts with Hamas because of its refusal to accept Israel's right to exist and renounce terrorism.

The State Department says the no-contact policy remains in effect despite the fact that Israel itself has been engaged in indirect talks with Hamas on the Gaza truce.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said the establishment of calm in Gaza "is a good thing" and that the United States supported Egyptian efforts to achieve that.

But he said the United States holds to the policy it adopted in 2006, that Hamas excludes itself from regional diplomacy by not embracing peace terms set by the international Middle East Quartet, and Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas.

"The U.S. policy on Hamas is quite clear, it hasn't changed. But the future of Hamas is in Hamas' hands. Hamas could very easily have a different kind of relationship with the international community. It could very easily have a different relationship with the Palestinian Authority government and structure," he said. "President Abbas has laid out very clearly his terms and conditions for establishing a unity government, or establishing a reintegration of all parts of the Palestinian people, and they sound pretty much like the Quartet conditions."

Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in early 2006. But its unity government with the mainstream Fatah movement collapsed with its takeover of Gaza in June of last year.

Under questioning, Spokesman Casey contested the notion that the Egyptian-brokered talks between Israel and Hamas, and Turkish mediated peace contacts between Israel and Syria, reflect a decline in U.S. influence in the Middle East, or that Washington is no longer seen as an honest broker in the area.

Casey said "a lot" of what has happened in the region in recent months flows from U.S. initiatives, among them last November's Annapolis conference which included several Arab states that have not made peace with Israel, including Syria.

He said the United States supports comprehensive regional peace that would include resolution of the issues between Israel and Syria.

But he also said the Israel-Syria track should not be a substitute for, or distraction from, direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which are seen in Washington as closer to achieving an agreement.

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