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US says Palestinian unity govt must recognise Israel, disarm Hamas

© AFP/File / by Mike Smith | Fighters of the armed wing of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas march in the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis on July 20, 2017

JERUSALEM (AFP) - 

A top aide to US President Donald Trump said Thursday that an emerging Palestinian unity government must recognise Israel and disarm Hamas, Washington's first detailed response to a landmark reconciliation deal signed last week.

A Hamas official immediately rejected the comments as "blatant interference" in Palestinian affairs, but did not say directly whether the Islamist group planned to comply with any of the demands.

Trump's special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt, who has repeatedly visited the region to seek ways to restart peace talks, laid out a series of conditions.

"Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognise the state of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties -? including to disarm terrorists -- and commit to peaceful negotiations," Greenblatt said in a statement.

The US conditions were roughly in line with principles previously set out by the Quartet for Middle East peace -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

"If Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements," Greenblatt said.

The statement was also similar to the Israeli government's response this week in which it vowed not to negotiate with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas unless the Islamist group agrees to a list of demands.

The demands included recognising Israel and renouncing violence, but also returning the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza, among other conditions.

Senior Hamas official Bassem Naim condemned Greenblatt's statement and accused the United States of adopting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's positions.

"This is blatant interference in Palestinian affairs because it is the right of our people to choose its government according to their supreme strategic interests," Naim told AFP.

"This statement comes under pressure from the extreme right-wing Netanyahu government and is in line with the Netanyahu statement from two days ago."

- Gaza humanitarian crisis -

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah movement signed a reconciliation deal with Hamas in Cairo a week ago aimed at ending a bitter 10-year split.

The Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organisation has recognised Israel, but Hamas has not and is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008, and the Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli blockade for more than a decade.

Egypt has also kept its border with Gaza largely closed in recent years.

Hamas has run the Gaza Strip since seizing it in a near civil war in 2007 with Fatah, based in the occupied West Bank, following a dispute over elections won by the Islamist movement.

The Palestinian Authority, currently dominated by Fatah, is due to resume control of the Gaza Strip by December 1 under the deal.

Talks are also expected on forming a unity government, with another meeting between the various Palestinian political factions scheduled for November 21.

Previous attempts at reconciliation have repeatedly failed, and many analysts are treating the latest bid with caution, waiting to see if actual change will occur on the ground.

A major sticking point is expected to be Hamas's refusal to disarm its 25,000-strong armed wing.

Diplomats say it would be possible to form a unity government that they could deal with that does not officially include Hamas.

A previous attempt at a unity government in 2014 was made up of technocrats deemed acceptable by the international community, though that bid fell apart.

Hamas has faced increasing isolation and deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip in recent months, including a severe electricity shortage.

Abbas has imposed a series of sanctions on the Gaza Strip to pressure Hamas, including cutting electricity payments, which has worsened the power cuts.

Hamas has reached out to Cairo for help, hoping to have the Rafah border with Egypt opened.

In return, Cairo has pressed Hamas to move forward on reconciliation with Fatah.

Greenblatt said "all parties agree that it is essential that the Palestinian Authority be able to assume full, genuine and unhindered civil and security responsibilities in Gaza and that we work together to improve the humanitarian situation for Palestinians living there."

In a briefing to the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, UN assistant secretary general Miroslav Jenca welcomed the reconciliation deal and spoke of the urgency of addressing the "humanitarian crisis" in Gaza.

by Mike Smith

© 2017 AFP