- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2011

CAIRO | Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas on Wednesday proclaimed a landmark reconciliation pact aimed at ending their bitter four-year rift that has left them with competing governments in the territories envisioned for a future Palestinian state, but Israel’s leader denounced it as a “mortal blow to peace.”

The alliance set off ecstatic celebrations in the Palestinian territories. International mediator Tony Blair insisted their new government must recognize Israel, a step Hamas has always rejected.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas brushed off the criticism and instead used the occasion to deliver a scathing attack on Israel, saying “we reject blackmail and it is no longer possible for us to accept the [Israeli] occupation of Palestinian land.”

The Palestinians have been torn between rival governments since a previous unity arrangement collapsed into civil war in June 2007. In five days of fighting, Hamas overran the Gaza Strip, leaving Mr. Abbas‘ Palestinian Authority in charge of the West Bank.

Reconciliation is essential for Palestinian dreams to establish a state in the two areas.

Wednesday’s pact provides for the creation of a joint caretaker government ahead of national elections next year. But it leaves key issues unresolved, such as who will lead the government or control the competing Palestinian security forces.

It also makes no mention of relations with Israel - the issue that led to the collapse of the previous unity government. Mr. Abbas favors a negotiated peace with Israel, while Hamas refuses to accept Israel’s existence.

In his speech, Mr. Abbas rejected Israel’s opposition to the pact, saying the reconciliation was an internal Palestinian affair.

“We forever turn the black page of division,” Mr. Abbas told the declaration ceremony in Egypt’s capital, Cairo. He promised to “soon” visit Hamas-held Gaza Strip.

“They are our brothers and family. We may differ, and we often do, but we still arrive at a minimum level of understanding,” he said.

In a potential sign of trouble, Mr. Blair said the world would demand the new government renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist - something that Hamas has always refused to do.

Despite an informal cease-fire that ended Israel’s punishing invasion two years ago, hundreds of rockets have been fired at Israel from Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Mr. Blair represents the so-called quartet of Mideast mediators - the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia - which imposed identical conditions to the previous Palestinian government.

Israel denounced the pact because of Hamas‘ long history of suicide attacks and rocket fire against Israeli targets. Israel, the U.S. and the European Union all consider Hamas a terrorist group.

“What happened today in Cairo is a mortal blow to peace and a big prize for terrorism,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a trip to London.

Israel continues to want peace and seek peace but we can only achieve that with our neighbors that want peace. Those of our neighbors that seek the destruction of Israel and use terrorism are not partners to peace.”\



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