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Hamas, Fatah Reach Deal on Unity Government

BY Admin  March 15, 2007 at 4:05 PM EDT

Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Abbas

In a press conference in Gaza City, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh presented President Mahmoud Abbas with an agreed list of ministers, the last obstacle to the formation of the government.

“I have handed over to the president the candidates for the new coalition. He has accepted that,” said Haniyeh during the conference. “We are optimistic the government will open a new era.”

The Cabinet lineup also has been submitted to the Palestinian parliament, which is expected to approve the appointments on Saturday.

Palestinian officials are counting on the deal to mitigate violence between the secular Fatah and Islamist Hamas groups, which has led to more than 130 deaths since fighting started last May, and hope that it will persuade European Union and U.S. officials to lift economic sanctions on the Hamas-led government.

“All parties should support and deal with this government,” said Nabil Abu Rdainah, an advisor to Abbas, at the press conference.

But sanctions will not be lifted, according to the U.S. government, because the three international conditions for acceptance, recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, and agreeing to interim peace deals, have not been met.

Israel immediately said it would boycott the coalition government until the conditions are met.

“Unfortunately the new Palestinian government seems to have said no to the three benchmarks of the international community,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said in an announcement just after the Palestinian press conference.

The new government’s platform includes only a vague pledge to “respect” past peace deals and allows for Palestinians to “defend themselves against any Israeli transgression.”

But possible changes to the platform might be discussed in the coming days, including limiting the “right to resistance” to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Saleh Sidan, an incoming Cabinet member, told the Associated Press.