Middle East

Palestinian leader Abbas 'still seeks' Israel peace talks

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks in Ramallah. Photo: 26 April 2014 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Abbas earlier said there was "no incompatibility" between a unity government and the peace talks

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he is still ready to extend peace talks with Israel, despite a recent breakdown in the process.

He said a new unity government with militant Hamas group would recognise Israel and renounce violence.

But a Hamas spokesman said the group "will not give any cover for any negotiations with the enemy".

Israel this week suspended the talks, demanding the annulment of the deal between rival Palestinian factions.

Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, rejects Israel's right to exist and is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the US, EU and other countries.

Mr Abbas's Fatah and Hamas say they aim to form a unity government within weeks.

Netanyahu's warning

Addressing a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Mr Abbas said the new government would follow his principles of recognising Israel and international commitments and rejecting violence.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Palestinians in Gaza City celebrated the announcement of the unity deal on Wednesday evening

Mr Abbas said the cabinet would only deal with domestic affairs and that any peace talks would remain the responsibility of the PLO, which does not include Hamas.

However, he stressed that Israel should meet several key demands before the process could resume, in particular the freeing of 30 Palestinian prisoners.

Israel cancelled the inmates' release, scheduled for March, accusing the Palestinians of reneging on a pledge not to seek further international recognition.

Mr Abbas also stressed that the Palestinians and Israel must agree on the borders of the future state of Palestine.

"For three months we'll discuss our map. In that period, until the map is agreed upon, all settlement activity must cease completely," he added.

The Palestinians say they want to form the cabinet within weeks.

An unnamed Israeli official said on Saturday that Mr Abbas had "administered the coup de grace" to the process by setting out the conditions "after he already knows Israel won't accept them," the AFP news agency reports.

However, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Mr Abbas should "announce the withdrawal from the talks completely".

He said the group's position on the negotiations was very clear and that it "will not give any cover for any negotiations with the enemy".

On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the BBC that Mr Abbas must choose between continuing with the pact with Hamas or continuing with efforts to secure peace,

Fatah and Hamas have been at odds since Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in 2006, ousted Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip during clashes in 2007 and set up a rival government.

US President Barack Obama has pledged not to abandon its peace efforts with Israel and the Palestinians.

However, he admitted that "neither side had political will to make tough decisions" and that there may need to be a pause in the process.