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Mideast Quartet Reiterates Terms for Hamas Role in Peacemaking


The international Quartet on the Middle East said Friday the pending new Palestinian unity government must renounce violence and recognize Israel if it wants to be part of regional peace efforts. Quartet members conferred by telephone on the Saudi-brokered Palestinian reconciliation accord reached late Thursday in Mecca. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Quartet is welcoming the Saudi mediation effort between the rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas and is expressing hope the Mecca agreement has the desired effect of bringing calm to violence-torn Gaza.

However the four parties - the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - made clear they do not accept the brief Mecca communiqué as sufficient to end the international boycott of Hamas.

They say the new Palestinian government being formed under the accord must be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and the acceptance of previous agreements including the Quartet's peace road map.

The four-power grouping issued a joint statement late Friday following a telephone conference call among Quartet principals, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana.

The Quartet statement reflected the cautious approach to the Saudi-brokered agreement taken earlier by the State Department.

In the brief statement issued in Mecca, Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas said he was tasking the incumbent Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to form a new government that would commit to what were termed the higher interests of the Palestinian people.

It did not say the new government would accept the Quartet terms, but Mr. Abbas called on the Hamas leader to respect international resolutions and agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said the United States will withhold judgment until it learns the makeup and policies of the new Palestinian government. "It's a four-paragraph statement, and it leaves open any number of questions about composition, structure, policies, plans and otherwise. I think we need to see a government formed, and see what the policies and positions of that government are, because that statement does leave open a number of questions about what this is and how it's going to be implemented," he said.

Spokesman Casey said the United States continues to view Hamas as a terrorist organization and that no change in that policy is foreseen.

The United States joined Quartet partners in barring aid to the current Hamas-led government a year ago, but it increased humanitarian aid to Palestinians through the United Nations and non-governmental organizations.

In its statement Friday, the Quartet welcomed the three-way meeting Secretary Rice will have February 19th with Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, intended as a venue for informally discussing what a final-status two-state solution to the Middle east conflict would entail.

The Quartet members said they will meet in Berlin two days after the Rice-Abbas-Olmert meeting to review the latest developments and discuss the way forward.

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