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Middle East

France ready to talk to Hamas 'when they accept peace process'

Latest update : 2009-01-21

"We will have to talk to Hamas when they accept the peace process, when they agree to start negotiations," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said to national lawmakers on Tuesday.

AFP - Paris will talk to the Islamist Hamas movement when it shows it is ready to seek peace with Israel, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Tuesday.

"It is our opinion -- and we realised this long ago -- that Hamas was one of the interlocutors" in the Middle East peace process, he told French lawmakers.

"We believe we will have to talk to them when they accept the peace process, when they agree to start negotiations," Kouchner said.

Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas called Monday for the formation of a national unity government between his Fatah movement and its Hamas rivals, who have ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007.

The call came a day after Israel halted its deadly three-week offensive on the territory, which has left more than 1,300 people dead, including 410 children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Kouchner welcomed the move, saying he hoped "the movement of unification of the two fractions of the Palestinian people will continue.

"This reconciliation must take place," he said. "That is the starting point."

Tensions between Hamas and Fatah burst into all-out street warfare in June 2007, when the Islamists seized the Gaza Strip and ousted forces loyal to the Western-backed president, who now only holds sway in the West Bank.

Earlier, foreigh ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said Paris would be ready to talk to a Palestinian unity government that included Hamas, if the Islamists show they are committed to peace with Israel.

"We are prepared to talk to a national unity government that respects the principle of the peace process and that will engage in negotiations with Israel on creating a Palestinian state living peacefully side by side with Israel," said the spokesman.

The Palestinians briefly had a Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniya, after the movement won legislative elections in 2006.

But the cabinet was boycotted by the international community, including by the European Union and United States which list Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

Haniya was forced out in June 2007, after his Islamist movement seized control of the Gaza Strip.
 

Date created : 2009-01-20