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US Skeptical of Palestinian Power-Sharing Deal

The United States said Tuesday plans for a new Palestinian unity government do not appear to meet international conditions for resuming aid to the Palestinian Authority. The deal announced Monday would retain Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh as prime minister but have cabinet members from various factions.

The United States is praising moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for his efforts to end the political crisis that has caused most donor countries to sever direct aid to the Palestinian government.

However, officials here say the political arrangement announced Monday appears to fall short of U.S. and European terms for restoring normal relations with the Palestinians.

Mr. Abbas said Monday the governing Hamas movement and his Fatah party had agreed on the principles of a power-sharing arrangement that would lead to a new government of national unity.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would remain as prime minister but the cabinet would include members of Hamas, Fatah, other factions and non-affiliated technocrats.

The government's political platform would be based on an agreement between Fatah and Hamas reached in June but never formally signed that tacitly endorses a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The United States, which considers Hamas a terrorist organization, joined European allies early this year in halting direct aid to the Hamas-led government after it took office and failed to meet international peace-making terms, including acceptance of Israel's right to exist.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said while the United States has not yet seen details of the new political arrangement, it apparently falls short of conditions set by the international community.

"From what we've seen so far, we are certainly concerned that the National Unity Government does not appear to meet the Quartet call for a Palestinian Authority government that meets specific criteria that we've outlined before, which includes renouncing terrorism and violence, recognizing Israel and accepting all the previous agreements between the parties and certainly that would include the Road Map. And it's important obviously that those criteria be met so there can be a Palestinian partner for peace," he said.

The international Middle East Quartet, the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, issued their Road Map to a Middle East peace settlement in April 2003. It calls for corresponding steps by the parties over a three-year span leading to an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel.

The aid cut-off by the Quartet partners, and an end to tax payments by Israel, has left the Palestinian Authority in a deep financial crisis, though international donors have continued humanitarian aid.

Spokesman Casey said the United States has committed nearly $470 million in indirect aid this year, much of it channeled through the United Nations' Palestinian relief agency.

Initial reaction to the Palestinian unity deal from European Union countries has been more favorable. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to discuss the development here later this week with visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.