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European Peace Initiative Gets Mixed Response in Mideast

There has been mixed reaction in Israel and the Palestinian territories to a new European peace initiative. Announcement of the plan came as leaders of rival Palestinian factions reported progress on the formation of a national unity government that would weaken the powers of the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas and be more acceptable to the international community.

Spain, France and Italy unveiled the Mideast peace initiative, saying Europe needs to play a more active role in ending the bloodshed. They described years of fighting between Israel and the Palestinians as "intolerable."

The plan calls for an immediate cease-fire, peace talks, and an international mission in the Gaza Strip to monitor the truce.

Israel flatly rejected the plan, saying the presence of international monitors would hinder its war on Palestinian terrorism. Traditionally, Israel prefers U.S. mediation and sees Europe as biased toward the Arabs.

Israeli spokesman Mark Regev says there is already the internationally backed "Road Map" peace plan that both sides have accepted. He says what is needed is implementation.

"Israel's expectation is no different from, I think, the expectation that Washington has or the rest of the international community: We expect the Palestinians to follow through on their commitment, and that is to disarm the different terrorist organizations," he said.

The ruling Palestinian group Hamas said the initiative contains "good points" that should be studied further, and it criticized Israel's rejection of the plan.

"The Israelis, they never really have an intention to have a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians," Hamas spokesman Ahmed Yousef said.

Hamas is already complying with one point of the European plan, easing its grip on power and forming a unity government with the rival and more moderate Fatah faction.

Palestinian negotiators say the Hamas government is expected to resign next week, clearing the way for a new cabinet made up of independent professionals.

The aim is to end crippling international sanctions imposed on Hamas because of its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Israel has given a cautious welcome to the emerging government, saying that if it strengthens the moderates, it could create an opportunity to revive the peace process.