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Netanyahu urges world not to recognise Palestinian unity government

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem April 6, 2014. REUTERS/Gali Tibbon/Pool
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem April 6, 2014. REUTERS/Gali Tibbon/Pool

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Sunday against any international rush to recognize a Palestinian government due to be announced under a unity pact between the Fatah and Hamas Islamist groups.

Israel and the West classify Hamas as a terrorist organization and have no official dealings with the movement, which advocates the destruction of the Jewish state.

But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah party signed a reconciliation deal with Hamas in April, said a unity government due to be announced on Monday would be composed of ministers without political affiliation, a status that could ease the way for Western engagement.

"I call on all responsible elements in the international community not to rush to recognize a Palestinian government which has Hamas as part of it and which is dependent on Hamas," Netanyahu, who has said such an administration would be a front for the Islamist group, told his cabinet.

"Hamas is a terrorist organization that calls for Israel's destruction, and the international community must not embrace it. That would not bolster peace, it would strengthen terror," Netanyahu said in public remarks at the cabinet meeting.

Israel froze U.S.-brokered peace talks with Abbas when the unity deal was announced on April 23 after numerous unsuccessful attempts at Palestinian reconciliation since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from Fatah forces in fighting in 2007.

In a call to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday, Abbas cast the intra-Palestinian moves as a domestic matter that should not affect wider diplomacy with Israel and the West.

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Abbas told Kerry "the coming government will be formed of independents and will represent the political agenda of the president," the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said.

Kerry, who oversaw the peace talks that stalled in April, "expressed concern about Hamas's role in any such government and the importance that the new government commit to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements with it," the State Department said in a statement.

Abbas assured Kerry that "the new government would be committed to these principles," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in the statement.

Abbas said on Saturday that Israel "informed us ... they would boycott us if we announced the government". Netanyahu, in his brief statement on Sunday, made no reference to any Israeli sanctions.

Israel has withheld tax revenues from Abbas's aid-dependent Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, in retaliation for his signing in April of international conventions and treaties after Israel reneged on a promised release of Palestinian prisoners.

On Saturday, a Palestinian official said Israel had denied requests by three Gaza-based Palestinians expected to be named as ministers to attend the new government's swearing-in ceremony in the occupied West Bank.

Abbas has said a joint government with Hamas would continue to abide by his policy of recognizing Israel, though the Islamist group insists it would not change its own policy of rejecting Israel's existence.

He has been keen to assure Western donor countries he will remain the key Palestinian decision-maker and that security coordination between his forces and Israel will continue.

Both Fatah and Hamas see benefits to a unity pact, though disagreements have blocked them from achieving such a government for years.

With a strict blockade imposed by neighbors Israel and Egypt, Hamas has been struggling to prop up Gaza's economy and pay its 40,000 employees. Abbas, for his part, wants to shore up his domestic support since the peace talks with Israel collapsed.

(Additional reporting by Peter Cooney in Washington; Editing by Andrew Roche, Marguerita Choy and Eric Walsh)

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