- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2007

TEL AVIV — Officials from Hamas and Israel dashed hopes yesterday that a Palestinian unity deal reached in the Saudi holy city of Mecca would end a crippling economic embargo or lead to a resumption of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

“Our battle with the Israeli enemy is still on,” Fathi Hamad, a Hamas leader in Gaza’s Jebaliya refugee camp, told thousands of supporters.

He urged militant groups to resume attacks on Israel and denied that Hamas would respect past peace deals with the Jewish state — a central element of the accord between Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas brokered by Saudi diplomats Thursday.

“We will be the spearhead of jihad … to defend Palestine and Arab and Muslim nations,” Mr. Hamad said, according to an Associated Press dispatch from Gaza.

Israel stopped short of a formal response, but Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told a security conference in Munich that Hamas remained dedicated to Israel’s destruction.

“Hamas is not using terrorism to build a peaceful Palestinian state but to destroy the other, to destroy Israel. … We cannot afford a terror state,” Mrs. Livni said.

In Israel, a top lawmaker in the ruling Kadima party said the accord falls short of conditions set by the international community to lift an economic embargo against the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

“Abbas failed yesterday. He gave the Hamas a big victory,” said Tzachi Hanegbi, chairman of the parliament’s Defense and Foreign Relations Committee. “Regarding whether this helps the peace process, I’d say it’s a step backwards.”

Israel, the United States, Europe and other would-be Mideast peace brokers have demanded the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel and honor previous agreements between the two sides.

Despite fireworks and demonstrations between supporters of Hamas and Mr. Abbas’ Fatah movements to celebrate the Mecca agreement, Palestinians said they were worried that it would not end intra-Palestinian fighting that has grown increasingly deadly in recent weeks.

“There are fears that this agreement is only a superficial one, since it is difficult to clear all the bitter feelings towards each other in such a short period of time,” wrote Mahmoud El Battash in the Palestinian daily newspaper El Hayat Al Jadidah.

“As a result of this, another cycle of violence might erupt.”

Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in the past two weeks in street battles that made Gaza look as if it were deep into a civil war.

Mohammed Dahlan, a leading Fatah strongman in Gaza who was present at the talks, told the Arabic cable channel Al Arabiya that the agreement will be difficult to implement and that it was concluded under pressure from the Saudi government.

An adviser to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, the top Hamas official in the Palestinian government, said that the Islamic militants don’t consider themselves obliged to carry out parts of the agreement that the Israelis have not kept.

The adviser, Ahmed Yousef, said Hamas hopes the deal will enable the European Union to persuade the United States and others to restore aid to the Palestinians.

“I count on the Europeans to change their policies, and to say that what happened in Mecca shows ideological flexibility,” he said. “The Europeans have their own interest, and they should care about the image and perception. They don’t want their image in the region to be like the U.S.”

A top Fatah official in Gaza said the agreement was drawn up first and foremost to stop a civil war. Fulfilling the demands of the so-called Quartet was secondary, he said. The Quartet joins the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia in a bid to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

In Washington, the Bush administration said it is too soon to tell whether plans for a unified Palestinian government will meet international conditions for legitimacy and financial aid.

“We still haven’t seen enough of the details on this to give you an answer,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

In Europe and at the United Nations, the reaction to the Mecca accord was slightly more upbeat.

France urged the international community yesterday to back the proposed national unity government formed by rival Palestinian factions.

“The inclusion in this government’s program of respecting international resolutions and agreements signed by the PLO constitutes a step in the right direction toward full adherence to the international community’s demands,” French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said.

At U.N. headquarters, representatives of the so-called Quartet — the U.N., United States, European Union and Russia — expressed hope yesterday that a Palestinian accord on sharing power in a coalition government would end months of deadly factional violence.

In the Arab world the emphasis was on calls to end the Western embargo against Hamas.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa called on the quartet of Middle East mediators to take the Palestinian agreement into consideration “and to consequently lift the embargo,” the League said in a statement.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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