Israeli PM takes Hamas fight to Europe
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Last Updated: Thursday, May 05, 2011, 11:41
  
London: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday a unity pact between Fatah and Hamas was a "tremendous blow to peace" and vowed to press the point in his talks with British and French leaders.

Netanyahu made his comments in London after Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmud Abbas buried the hatchet with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal at a ceremony in Cairo on Wednesday, ending a nearly four-year feud.

"What happened today in Cairo is a tremendous blow to peace and a great victory for terrorism," Netanyahu told reporters ahead of a two-hour meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, which ended around 2115 GMT.

He added that Hamas' recent condemnation of the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by US forces proved that bringing the group into mainstream Palestinian politics would harm chances of peace in the Middle East.

"When Abu Mazen (Abbas)... embraces Hamas, an organisation that two days ago condemned the American action against Osama, praises Osama to the gills as some great martyr for emulation, when he (Abbas) embraces this organisation which is committed to Israel's destruction... this is a tremendous setback for peace and a great advance for terror," the Israeli Premier said.

The visiting leader warned "a great struggle" was now under way in the Middle East between "the forces of democracy and moderation, and the forces of tyranny and terror".

"I think the fate of the Middle East and the fate of peace hangs in the balance," he added.

After Britain, Netanyahu will fly to Paris on Thursday to present his case to French President Nicolas Sarkozy as Israel tries to fight off UN recognition of a Palestinian state.

But Cameron's Downing Street office said the Hamas-Fatah deal would hopefully be a "step forward", adding that the British Premier would urge Netanyahu to press ahead with efforts to find a resolution to the conflict.

"This is a time to pursue not ignore the Middle East peace process. That will be his main message to Mr Netanyahu today," a spokesman said.

"We need to study the detail of the agreement but, as the Prime Minister was making clear in the House of Commons yesterday, we hope that Palestinian unity between Fatah and Hamas will be a step forward.”

"Clearly we will judge any Palestinian government on its actions. We want the Palestinian government that emerges to reject violence and engage in a meaningful peace process."

Netanyahu is fiercely opposed to the militant Islamist Hamas movement having any role in a caretaker Palestinian government being formed by Abbas, and intends to say so clearly in his talks with Cameron and Sarkozy.

"It's not that Hamas is moving toward Fatah (positions), Fatah is moving toward Hamas," a senior Israeli political source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters travelling with the Premier.

"Our response must be unequivocal," he said. "What is needed today is clarity."

Before travelling to Britain on Tuesday Netanyahu told Britain's former premier Tony Blair - the Middle East peace envoy for the diplomatic quartet of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States - that Abbas must "completely cancel" the agreement.

His office said the Israeli Premier would "make similar remarks during his meetings in London and Paris" with Cameron and Sarkozy.

But Netanyahu looked set to face a sceptical audience in both capitals, with Sarkozy giving the clearest indication yet that France may recognise an independent Palestinian state if peace talks do not resume soon.

"If the peace process is still dead in September, France will face up to its responsibilities on the central question of recognition of a Palestinian state," he said in an interview with L'Express magazine.

Netanyahu wants European leaders to oppose, or at least abstain, if the Palestinians seek United Nations recognition of a unilateral declaration of statehood when the body's General Assembly convenes in September.

Israel and the United States oppose a unilateral Palestinian statehood bid, saying sovereignty can only be achieved through negotiation.

Bureau Report


First Published: Thursday, May 05, 2011, 11:41


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