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Israel rules out talks with Hamas coalition

March 19, 2007|From the Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that peace talks with the Palestinian Authority coalition government would be impossible as long as it refused to renounce violence and recognize his nation's right to exist.

The Israeli Cabinet endorsed Olmert's position, urging the West to maintain tough economic sanctions imposed after the election victory last year of the Islamic militant group Hamas, which the United States and much of the West consider a terrorist group. Palestinians had hoped the alliance between Hamas and the moderate Fatah faction would lead Israel and Western countries to lift the sanctions.

"We can't have contact with members of a government that justifies resistance or, in other words, terror," Olmert said, according to meeting participants.

Palestinian officials urged Israel to reconsider.

"This statement continues the long-standing Israeli policy that says there is no Palestinian partner for peace," said Azzam Ahmed of Fatah, the new deputy prime minister. "Israel doesn't want to revive the peace process."

The new Palestinian platform appears to have softened Hamas' militant stance. Although it refers to resistance "in all forms" to Israeli occupation, it also calls for consolidating and expanding a truce with Israel.

Olmert said he would maintain limited contact with the moderate Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, who was elected separately and is not part of the new Cabinet.

Norway, a major donor to the Palestinians, has agreed to resume aid. Britain and the United Nations also signaled flexibility, but the U.S. and Israel said Sunday that their positions would not change.

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