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Hamas, Fatah Meet on New Palestinian Government; Israel Arrests Alleged Terrorists


Officials from the militant Islamic group Hamas are meeting Monday with the Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on forming a new Palestinian government.

A spokesman for Fatah, Azzam El Ahmed, the leader of Fatah's parliamentary bloc, said after an initial session in Gaza that Fatah is not likely to join a Hamas-led government. He said relations between Hamas and Fatah are facing a crisis of trust.

In talks on Saturday, Hamas presented Fatah with a draft of a government program, which Fatah rejected.

In other news, Israeli troops have arrested two Palestinian teenagers near Nablus who they say were planning a terror attack.

Also Monday, Israeli settlers clashed with Palestinians and Israeli peace activists near the southern West Bank city of Hebron. The peace activists were helping Palestinian farmers plant olive trees.

Israel has been on high alert as it begins to celebrate Purim, a holiday celebration featuring masquerades.

The United States and European Union have threatened to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority once a Hamas-led government is formed. The U.S. and Europe say Hamas is a terrorist organization. They have called on Hamas to recognize Israel and renounce violence. Hamas says it will not change under pressure.

Washington wants to continue working with Mr. Abbas and says it may increase humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.

The Reuters News Agency says the Bush administration will curtail contacts with Fatah if it joins a Hamas-led government.

In January's Palestinian elections, Hamas won an overwhelming victory. It wants Fatah and other Palestinian factions to join a government.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.
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