The Palestinian militant group Hamas is expressing anger over an Arab endorsement of next week's international peace conference in the United States. But as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, Israel has welcomed Arab participation.

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has condemned the decision by Arab states to attend the upcoming Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland. The group described the announcement by Arab League foreign ministers Friday as a "great shock" because it opens the door to normal relations with Israel.

While Egypt and Jordan have peace treaties with Israel, other Arab countries which will attend the conference, such as Saudi Arabia, do not have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. Hamas refuses to recognize Israel or renounce violence.

Hamas official Ahmed Yousef says the Annapolis conference only serves the interests of the United States and Israel.

"They try actually, because the world community [is] on their side, they [are] trying to use all the might that they have to undermine the Palestinian cause," he said.

Hamas seized control of Gaza in a factional war in June, routing the Fatah forces of western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Mr. Abbas, who now heads a moderate government in the West Bank, is trying to negotiate a peace treaty with Israel that will result in the creation of a Palestinian state.

Israeli spokesman Mark Regev says the participation of the Arab states in the conference gives a boost to Mr. Abbas and the peace process.

"And the whole point of this international meeting is to have a meeting of the moderate forces, those forces that want peace, those forces that oppose the hateful and extremist agenda of Hamas. And what we'd like to see is the Arab world be more involved and get off the fence," said Regev.

Mr. Abbas will attend the meeting, as will Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The power struggle between President Abbas and Hamas casts a dark shadow over peace efforts. It will be hard for Israel to make far-reaching concessions to Mr. Abbas because he does not represent all the Palestinian people and he does not control all the weapons.

Earlier this week, Mr. Olmert said he hopes to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians by next year. He said any future peace deal will not be implemented until the moderate Palestinian government in the West Bank retakes control of the Gaza Strip from Hamas.