U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney said Monday that Hamas militants, backed by Syria and Iran are trying to "torpedo" current peace negotiations between Israel and moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Jim Teeple has details from our Jerusalem bureau.

Speaking just before he left Israel after two days of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Mr. Cheney accused Hamas militants and their backers in Syria and Iran of doing everything they can to sabotage the current round of negotiations between Israel and the moderate Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas.

His comments came following a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Mr. Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev says there is plenty of evidence to back up Mr. Cheney's claims.

"We have no doubt that the extremist elements; Hamas, Islamic Jihad the Iranians will do what they can to destroy any chance of the peace process succeeding," said Regev. "We see evidence of that every day. They are shooting rockets into Israel, they want to provoke an escalation, and they do not want to see the peace process succeed."

Mr. Cheney also said that he and senior Palestinian leaders had discussed a proposed reconciliation agreement between Mr. Abbas's Fatah movement and Hamas militants who control the Gaza Strip.

On Sunday representatives of the two Palestinian factions meeting in Yemen, agreed to hold direct talks in the near future. The U.S. vice-president says he believes Mr. Abbas has set preconditions for the talks that would require Hamas to relinquish control in Gaza before any reconciliation could take place. A statement from Mr. Abbas's office confirmed that policy but Hamas militants say the agreement reached in Yemen has no preconditions.

U.S. and Israeli officials say they will have nothing to do with Hamas unless and until the group renounces violence and agrees to recognize Israel.